BY RICHARD SKOLNIK
Despite its many talented healthcare professionals, New Mexico ranks 33rd in healthcare in the US (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/health-care). This is not by chance. Rather, misguided state policies are an important cause of the poor status of healthcare in our state.
Some of New Mexico’s most critical healthcare gaps relate to physician shortages. NM ranks 36th of the 50 states in “physicians in patient care,” per capita. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2020-2021/DocSt.pdf). In addition, we have an aging physician work force and are likely to face increasing shortages of physicians in the future. Trying to see your primary care provider can be difficult. However, it can take many months to get an appointment with a range of adult or pediatric subspecialists.
Moreover, the 40% of our population on Medicaid generally cannot use it to seek healthcare services in other states. This heightens our state’s need for increasing our local pool of physicians.
Many states are making it increasingly difficult for physicians to practice medicine as physicians think they should. Some of this relates, for example, to physician perceptions of state interference with care for reproductive health and prescribing practices and the lack of sufficient state support for vaccination.
In this light, there has never been a better time for New Mexico to recruit physicians from other states, with slogans like:
“Come to New Mexico, where we let you practice medicine in the way you were trained”.
However, New Mexico can only attract physicians from elsewhere and benefit from remote physician services if the state urgently addresses a number of barriers that now prevent physicians from wanting to work here. Such steps, some of which are now before the state legislature include:
- NM must urgently reform its approach to malpractice so that the perceived high limits on awards against physicians don’t discourage physicians from wanting to practice in our state.
- The state must ensure that it has a well-supported office whose only function is to see that that eligible physicians from elsewhere get licensed in New Mexico as quickly as they could in any state in the US.
- New Mexico must begin to participate urgently in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact for physicians, as 37 other states have done.
- New Mexico must make it as easy as possible for physicians across the US to provide telemedicine services in our state.
The state legislature and the governor have a choice. They can make good on their professed interest in the health and well-being of all New Mexicans by acting on the measures noted above.
Alternatively, they can let healthcare in New Mexico continue on its present path, in which case our healthcare system will become less accessible and of lower quality. Our poorest people will pay the most for such failures. However, the lack of healthcare providers of high quality will also increasingly affect LANL’s ability to recruit high level talent.
Our State Representative, Christine Chandler, has done considerable work of value in our legislature on behalf of all New Mexicans. I hope she makes the right choices on healthcare, as well.
(Richard Skolnik is a Lecturer in the Yale School of Public Health. He was previously the Director for Health for the South Asia Region of the World Bank, a Lecturer in Global Health at The George Washington University and Yale, and the Executive Director of a Harvard AIDS Treatment Program for three countries in Africa. He is the author of Global Health 101, Fourth Edition, and the Instructor for Yale’s Essentials of Global Health on Coursera).