Best of #StateReads: “State Faces Major Doctor Shortage”

  • October 10, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

This week's collection of #StateReads examines a “critical doctor shortage” in Georgia, a massive backlog of unemployment claims in New Jersey and Idaho's costly, unused governor's mansion.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to dvock@stateline.org.

“State faces major doctor shortage: Boost in school enrollment can't keep pace with growing need” — Atlanta Journal Constitution

Georgia is facing a “critical doctor shortage,” and it's coming at an inopportune time, Carrie Teegardin and Misty Williams (@AJCHealthcare) report for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “A generation of physicians prepares to retire just as aging baby boomers and the federal health care law create a surge in demand for medical care,” they write. What's more, lower pay for family doctors and other primary care providers is propelling many medical school graduates toward better paying specialties. Anticipating the doctor shortage, medical schools have boosted enrollments by 50 percent over the past decade, but a lack of residencies continues to drive Georgia medical students out of state, the reporters note. With 20,000 primary doctors, Georgia ranks 45th nationally in doctors per capita. By 2020, the state is projected to be short 2,500 doctors, with rural areas hit hardest. The result? “Getting in to see a doctor in Georgia will no longer be as easy as making an appointment and handing over an insurance card,” Teegardin and Williams write. “Longer waits or difficulty finding a good doctor who is accepting new patients may become a norm.” In this four-part series, the newspaper dives deeply into the issue, finding that doctors are turning down Medicare patients as seniors grow in population while patients will likely shift away from scarce doctors and receiving care from nurse practitioners and physician's assistants.

“N.J. scrambles to get staffers for jobless appeals claims” — The Record (Bergen County)

New Jersey's Department of Labor and Workforce Development is facing a massive backlog of unprocessed unemployment claims, leaving recently laid off workers without the assistance they are due, reports Juliet Fletcher (@JulietFletcher) for The Record (Bergen County).As few as 34 employees were handling the thorniest of the 3 million cases filed by newly laid-off workers who've sought benefits since 2008 — reaching a peak backlog last November of more than 12,000 tribunal appeals,” Fletcher reports. The department expects eight new staffers to begin work next week, but it could take those employees up to three months to get up to speed on job. Meanwhile, the department could soon see a flood of new appeals, Fletcher reports. That's because emergency benefits extended by the federal government will expire in December, leaving 100,000 without help.

“Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises” — The New York Times

Voters are increasingly turning to absentee ballots, which are “less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth,” Adam Liptak (@adamliptak) reports for The New York Times. “Voting by mail is now common enough and problematic enough that election experts say there have been multiple elections in which no one can say with confidence which candidate was the deserved winner,” he writes. In nine states likely to decide this year's presidential election, some 18 percent of voters cast their choices by mail. With a 2 percent rejection rate, mailed-in ballots are more than twice to be invalidated than those cast in person. They are more likely to be filled out incorrectly or to have been touched by fraud than those cast in person, Liptak reports. Absentee voters — elderly people living in nursing homes, for example — may be pressured in making their choices, or their ballots may be intercepted either coming or leaving the homes. Additionally, Liptak notes, the buying or selling of a vote is made easier by absentee ballots.

“Idaho discovers it's tough to return a mansion” —Associated Press

In 2005, a potato magnate gave the State of Idaho a hilltop mansion in Boise, asking that it be used to house the sitting governor. The problem? No governor wants to live in the 7,100-foot home, and it's costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain.  Meanwhile, the family of the late donor, J.R. Simplot, won't take back the mansion, reports John Miller of the Associated Press (@AP). Under a cost sharing agreement with the family, the state will pay $80,000 for upkeep this year, bringing its total spending on the home to $177,400. That's more expensive than the median home in the area, Miller notes. Governor Butch Otter has refused to live in the mansion, opting instead for his more modest ranch west of the capital. That may be an attempt to maintain his everyman persona in rugged Idaho. But Otter could have personal reasons, too, Miller reports. He divorced Simplot's daughter 19 years ago.

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