New Mexico is in the midst of a doctor shortage crisis, having lost 30% of its primary care providers in just four years. In response, legislators have introduced Senate Bill 231, which aims to appropriate $7.5 million to the Higher Education Department to address the issue. This funding would be used to recruit students into the medical field, develop medical infrastructure, and increase the number of medical practitioners in the state.
Senate Bill 231 passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously, but it still needs to be approved by the Senate Finance Committee. A recent study also found that New Mexico is below the national average for psychiatrists, OBGYNs, and general surgeons, with rural hospitals in the state suffering the most.
Dr. Gabrielle Adams, president of Southwest Gastroenterology, is also advocating for changes to medical malpractice payouts in the state. Specifically, she is calling for a cap of $750,000 for independent outpatient healthcare facilities that are not majority-owned by a hospital. Senate Bill 296, which proposes this change, is currently under review.
However, some lobbyists, lawyers, and patients involved in medical malpractice cases are concerned that the proposed change unfairly limits a patient’s ability to pursue higher-cost claims for malpractice that has inflicted severe emotional, mental, and physical damage.
Mostly Republicans lawmakers are also calling for a revisiting of the issue this year, citing the current high malpractice caps as exacerbating the healthcare provider shortage in the state.
The increase in medical liabilities cap due to House Bill 75 has created a malpractice insurance crisis in New Mexico that threatens the ability of physicians to provide life-saving care. The bill poorly defined the terms “hospital” and “individual,” causing potential lawsuits for the higher $6 million limit.
Ambiguity has resulted in physicians and surgical centers being unable to find carriers willing to insure at the $6 million limit. New Mexico is already experiencing heavy losses of qualified physicians, with more than 600 primary care physicians leaving the state between 2017 and 2020.
Losing highly skilled physicians relegates New Mexicans to travel out of state for complex medical care. The trial attorney lobby is knowingly garnering money from patients’ future care towards their legal fees. Action must be taken to address the crisis. Inaction is bad for New Mexicans, bad for business, and bad for physicians.
New Mexico needs to address its healthcare provider shortage urgently. While Senate Bill 231 is a positive step forward, it will take time to see its effects. Meanwhile, lawmakers should also consider the concerns raised by both Dr. Adams and those opposed to the proposed changes to medical malpractice payouts.
A balance must be struck that protects patients while also ensuring that medical providers can continue to operate in the state. Only then can New Mexico hope to reverse the trend of declining healthcare access and quality.