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Di Dinnis/MEDILL

Illinois physicians, many of whom belong to the AMA,  may soon face an increase in license fees.

Physicians’ licensing fees may jump, but wait times could go down

by Di Dinnis
Feb 14, 2013

The cost of getting an Illinois physicians’ license may soon go up, but the wait time for getting the license should get shorter, under a proposal approved Wednesday by an Illinois Senate Committee.

The proposal raising the fee for a physician’s license to $700 from the current $300 passed in a 10-5 party-line vote, supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

The fee for a three-year license has been unchanged since 1987. The licensing fees fund the department that processes applications for new licenses and renewals. Since 1987 the department’s costs have doubled putting it into debt.

As a result of the increased costs, last month the unit processing the licenses reduced its staff from 26 to eight.

Now only one person is processing applications instead of three, increasing wait time. When the unit is fully staffed, applications usually are processed in 15-16 business days. Currently the wait is 3 ½ months.

All physicians in Illinois are required to obtain a license to practice. The department processed 2,600 permanent license applications last year. They also get another 2,300-2,500 temporary licenses for medical school residents each year.

A separate proposal also passed by the Senate committee allows the department to borrow $6.6 million to immediately rehire the staff that was let go last month.

Sue Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said that if the bill is not passed soon, wait times could be 12-18 months.

Dr. William Werner, director of the Illinois State Medical Society, agrees that an increase is due, but said $500 should be more than enough to fund the department.

“We feel that the increase to $700 is beyond the needs that the department has right now,” Werner said. “It also does not address the key issue and our real concern that the department is in a situation that binds itself” because previously money that was dedicated for the department has been absorbed into the state general fund.

“Our members’ biggest concern is to have a fully staffed department that will allow them to get their licenses and their licenses renewed, and so they can get licensed in a timely manner,” Ginnie Flynn, vice president of communications for the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.

The long wait times for license approval also affects medical students entering their residencies.

New graduates from medical school must do a residency, which starts July 1st. Students are currently submitting their choices for residency locations, and a long wait time to get a license could deter some from putting Illinois on their list, Flynn said.

"We rely on interns starting on time to make sure we have coverage for all those patients,” said Deborah Edberg, program director for the McGaw Northwestern Family Medicine Program.

Edberg also said the current processing time is deterring those who have completed their residencies from wanting to stay in Illinois and practice medicine.

"I hear from a lot of them that they're thinking about applying for licenses in Indiana or Wisconsin because they need to start working as soon as they graduate,” Edberg said.

“They can't really wait 3-4 months without a paycheck. A lot of them are looking for possibly temporary jobs out of state, but some of those temporary jobs may just become permanent jobs and I think we're going to lose a lot of physicians who are recent grads in state if it's easier for them to get licensed out of state."

An Illinois House committee previously approved slightly different measures on fees and a loan for the department. If the full House and full Senate approve the differing bills, the differences will have to be resolved by joint conference committee for final approval by both bodies.