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Health Security Act would heal access-to-care woes

The recent series in the Journal (available at fleshed out the growing problems relating to poor access to health care in New Mexico. All but one county in the state is short of providers, and waiting times for appointments can be a month or more. It is time to embark on a broad systemic change to address this crisis and restore the critically important physician-patient relationship.

The Health Security Act, HB 295/SB 279, now pending in the Legislature would start us on this path. The bill calls for an in-depth fiscal analysis to make certain the Health Security Plan is financially feasible and prudent. The process of setting up the plan would continue only after the study first demonstrates its viability.

The New Mexico Academy of Family Physicians endorses the Health Security Plan. Also, the New Mexico Medical Society, with more than 2000 physician members, supports carrying out the currently proposed analysis to see if the plan works financially.

As the Journal demonstrated, provider shortages are a worsening problem. We have the highest proportion of doctors over age 60 of any state, so many retirements by them are coming in the near future. In addition, in a recent national survey that assessed 33 factors, New Mexico is the third state from the bottom in our access to health care. And with an older population than the national average, New Mexico needs more providers per capita than most states.

In summary, New Mexico is in more of a crisis than most states, and the situation will likely get worse. How do we “out-recruit” other states for physicians, nurse practitioners, etc.?

We New Mexico physicians are convinced that hundreds of additional doctors would choose to practice in the state if every resident of the state was covered with comprehensive, affordable health insurance, as would be the case with the Health Security Plan (HSP).

We are confident that this plan would bring more providers to New Mexico because we know:

a) The majority of N.M. doctors have 46 health system frustrations in their offices “daily” or “often,” based on a 2018 New Mexico Medical Society survey. The HSP – which is far simpler, fairer, cheaper and more efficient – would reduce or eliminate about half those battles for patients and providers.

b) High drug prices, networks and insurance company obstacles frustrate patients and providers to no end, and the HSP would tackle these head on.

c) Having their patients stay in one affordable, comprehensive plan year after year, as the HSP calls for, would mean better continuity of care and health outcomes.

d) The HSP would not change how health care is delivered. The ownership of hospitals, offices, labs, etc., would remain the same.

e) Underserved areas of New Mexico would have far more success with provider recruitment under the HSP, due to its salary bonuses for underserved areas, Regional Health Councils and geographically balanced representation on the commission that oversees the plan.

f) Private practice, instead of huge medical groups, would be an attractive option again for doctors – a positive change for patients.

We can easily imagine many doctors from other states, who are worn down by today’s health system mess, choosing to come here for a far more satisfying work life.

The Health Security Plan calls for an innovative approach that enables New Mexico to self-insure, setting up its own health care plan with a structure like a co-op. The plan is a New Mexico solution, with years of input from New Mexicans across the state. It is endorsed by over 170 diverse organizations.

Instead of simply struggling along with a worsening crisis, let’s take the next step. New Mexico could well become the nation’s leader in attracting providers while creating a better health system. For once, let’s be first, rather than last.