ImmigrationNew Georgia immigration bill makes state health professionals feel the pain

Published 27 November 2012

Starting in January 2012, a Georgia House bill required health employees to prove their citizenship or legal residency when they apply for or renew a professional license; the bill has licensing administrators tied up in knots as understaffed offices cannot keep up with the deluge of new paperwork and increased responsibility

Starting in January 2012, a Georgia House bill required health employees to prove their citizenship or legal residency when they apply for or renew a professional license. This bill has licensing administrators tied up in knots as understaffed offices cannot keep up with the deluge of new paperwork and increased responsibility.

“Physicians in Georgia are frustrated,” Donald J. Palmisano Jr., executive director and CEO of the Medical Association of Georgia, told the American Medical News. The association “has received a number of complaints regarding the law’s proof-of-citizenship requirements. Physicians are filing this information with the medical board, but the medical board simply doesn’t have the resources to verify the information in any timely way.”

One of the initial provisions in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 was confirming the citizenship of medical professionals. Part of the act requires licensing boards to obtain and secure verifiable documentation from each applicant who applies for a new or renewed license.

According to Georgia State Representative Edward Lindsey, the law’s purpose is to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants and to penalize those who do.

“In Georgia and a number of other states, there are a number of folks that are not here legally. The economic impact on the state is estimated at $2 billion a year,” Lindsey told AMN. The law seeks to “protect us citizens and legal residents from having to compete against someone here illegally and to protect businesses that are doing it right.”

The act, however, has turned what used to be a simple process into a time-consuming and annoying wait, according to Bob Jeffery, director of operations for the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

“It certainly has affected the time it takes for [doctors] to renew both in terms of what they have to do as well as the interval between submitting their renewal [paperwork] and the time the license is renewed,” Jeffery told AMN. The new process “requires human intervention. Now we have to take the same number of staff and devote a significant part of their time to processing what would have been a routine renewal that was completely automatic.”

In the past, physicians got their license renewed within minutes online. Now, due to the bill, the wait is about ten days. Almost 30 percent of license renewals take more than ten days and 10 percent take more than thirty days.

The delays have hurt some professionals, as their licenses expired before they were renewed. This year, 13.5 percent of 1,749 physicians who applied for a renewal the licenses expired before they were renewed. Last year just 2.8 percent of license renewals expired.

“That’s a big deal,” Jeffery told AMN. “Doctors can be reprimanded for practicing without a license, but … if there’s some sort of billing problem or a malpractice suit, they might not be able to get insurance coverage” or might have trouble defending against a liability claim.”

The Georgia Secretary of State Office is having the same processing issues due to the new bill. According to Jared Thomas, a spokesman for the office, the average time for a “clean” application is 17 days currently, but used to take less than a week. If an application is missing information, the wait is much longer. New license applications can take up to three months.

“You can’t start until you get your license,” Thomas told AMN. “You can see obviously how frustrating that can be not only to the [health professional], but also the hospital or whoever was going to employ them.”

According to Lindsey, the delays are a necessary evil of an immigration law which is essential, but he also admits that the requirements should only apply to those who are requesting a license for the first time.

“We need to fix that,” Lindsey told AMN. “Once someone is in the state government database having established a legal right to a license, the next time they come back to renew or get another, there should not be a need for that person to [prove citizenship]. That’s just needless paperwork.”

Legislators attempted to amend the law to address this issue during the Legislature’s most recent session, but they were unsuccessful. They plan to try again next session, Lindsey told AMN.

 

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