Good news for rural East Texas!

By Courtney Lane - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

WHITEHOUSE, TX (KLTV) - For those living in rural parts of East Texas we have some good news. More physicians may be setting up a practice closer to you. Governor Rick Perry signed a bill into law Wednesday, that will help doctors pay off school loans and provide incentives to bring them to under-served areas.

Dr. Melissa Gerdes at Trinity Clinic in Whitehouse has been an advocate of the bill. She's thrilled it passed and says you should be too, as it'll bring more health care to East Texans.

"They'll be able to find a doctor, number one, and a lot of patients, especially medicare patients," said Gerdes. "Even in this area in East Texans are having difficulty finding physicians who will take medicare or are open to take patients because everyone is so full."

Community health clinics of East Texas help lower-income families. They're confident this measure will bring in more doctors to treat East Texans in need.

"This is going to be really great for us," said Dr. Bennie Webster, with Community Health Clinics of North Texas. "The adults can come here and have services and they can bring their children for dental care and for children's care also."

The reason there has been such a shortage in primary care is that most physicians can't make enough to pay off school loans - often well over $160,000 after med school.

"It turns a lot of students off from selecting primary care fields because they generally make less income than do specialists," said Dr. Gerdes.

But now, doctors who work in under-served communities for four years will have their loans paid off.

"When you go out to Henderson County to the west and some of our southern and northern counties a lot of those are health shortage designated areas so that will allow physicians to select those sites," said Dr. Gerdes.

"This is a really good thing for Tyler and for the other 12 counties that we serve," said Dr. Webster.

Dr. Gerdes only wishes there would have been these incentives when she got started.

"It would have helped a lot," she said.

The program will be funded by taxes already raised on smokeless tobacco products. The state estimates it'll bring some 900 new physicians over the next four years.

©2009 KLTV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.