Op-Ed: Legislature Can Help Ease Health Care Provider Shortage

DOH, HSD and HED leaders urge lawmakers to support four health care workforce programs

There’s a disturbing trend nationwide that is adversely impacting the health of Americans: There simply aren’t enough health care providers to meet a skyrocketing demand. New Mexico has the oldest physician workforce in the nation, with 37% of physicians over 60 years old and facing retirement in the next 10 years. In a state like ours with high poverty levels and poorer health overall, we must work together, across federal, state and local governments, alongside the private sector, and with our partners in the Legislature to reverse this trend.

Here’s where the Legislature can help:

There are four critical programs supporting our healthcare workforce in the current budget passed by the state House of Representatives. In total, those programs are short over $232 million in essential funding. We need the Senate to close these crucial gaps. New Mexicans have the power to change the course of healthcare in our state—all it takes is letting your state lawmaker know you want change, because every New Mexican deserves quality healthcare.

First and foremost, we urge the Legislature to pass and fully fund Senate Bill 7, the Rural Health Care Delivery Act. In the past few years, we’ve seen many clinics in rural communities close. This means that many New Mexicans now must travel large distances to appointments, including expectant mothers who can no longer deliver their babies locally. This is not only problematic for the hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans who live outside of metropolitan areas, it also increases demand and wait times within larger cities like Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.

Secondly, we have to make sure providers serving Medicaid patients are adequately reimbursed. This is especially critical in a state where nearly half of the population is on Medicaid. Health providers and institutions often spend more money caring for Medicaid beneficiaries than they receive in reimbursement, sometimes leading to providers ceasing to serve Medicaid patients. While the House budget proposes a Medicaid provider rate increase of 120% of Medicare rates for primary care and maternal and child health services, it does not provide funding to actually implement the increase. In fact, it’s short $16.7 million.

Third, the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which provides an extra layer of professional liability coverage for participating providers, needs an immediate infusion. The Fund is currently operating at a deficit and requires an infusion to keep provider surcharges affordable. Failure to fund this request could result in an untenable increase in provider surcharges to participate in the fund. It, too, is short more than $16 million in the House budget.

Lastly, we need to support the highly successful Health Professional Loan Program. The program supported 60 licensed medical professionals last year, which is the highest number to date but only a quarter of the total applicants. The others were turned away due to lack of funding. We want to hit the gas on that program with a bump up to $30 million, which would expand the program from 60 to 1,000 medical professionals.

The health care provider shortage has been one of the most debated topics throughout the 60-day session—but talk will not bring more medical providers into our communities. Let’s finish the job and fully support New Mexico’s healthcare workforce and the New Mexicans they serve. The health of New Mexicans is not a bargaining chip. Call your state legislator and ask them to fully fund programs that attract and retain healthcare providers to New Mexico.

Written by:

Dr. Laura Parajón, Deputy Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Health, Volunteer Faculty, University of New Mexico Family and Community Medicine Department/College of Population Health

Kari Armijo, Acting Cabinet Secretary for the Human Services Department

Stephanie Rodriguez, Cabinet Secretary for the Higher Education Department

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