McCall introduces bill aimed at increasing number of doctors in rural areas

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Charles McCall has introduced a measure aimed at encouraging more doctors to practice in rural areas of the state.

House Bill 3823 would allow doctors who practice in rural communities to claim a $25,000 tax credit for the tax year beginning in 2021. The bill defines rural communities as any municipality with a population of less than 25,000 and that is also located at least 25 miles from the nearest municipality with a population greater than 25,000.

“Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of states for access to primary care in rural areas, and the majority of those primary care physicians we do have in rural Oklahoma are closing in on retirement,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. 

“We need a multifaceted approach to improving access to care in our smaller communities, and we have to find ways to encourage providers to move into and practice in those communities. 

“This would allow those doctors to take that money they saved and invest it in their practices, to pay student loans and to invest in the local community.”

The bill would limit the exemption only to doctors who practice in a rural area as defined and who graduated from a medical or osteopathic school in Oklahoma. 

The doctor must also reside in the same county where the qualifying income was earned. Doctors who live within the boundaries of a tribal jurisdiction and are employed by a tribally owned or operated health facility or federal Indian Health Service facility would also qualify for the credit.

A doctor could claim the credit for up to five years. The credit would end once a total of $1 million was claimed statewide. Speaker McCall said the bill is essentially a pilot program, and he would seek to expand the credit if it encourages doctors to relocate to rural parts of the state.

McCall introduced a similar measure last session, House Bill 2511, which passed out of the House by a vote of 98-2 before stalling in the Senate.

In addition to House Bills 3823 and 2511, McCall said he intends to introduce additional legislation this session to address rural health care worker shortages by instituting improved professional licensing reciprocity for health care professionals. 

Doing so would make it easier for licensed health care workers from other states to practice in Oklahoma as long as their existing license meets Oklahoma’s standards.

“Offering rural doctors these incentives and breaking down barriers like licensing red tape are logical steps we can advance this year in addition to other important measures being considered to improve Oklahoma’s health,” McCall said.