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Want more NM health care providers? Improve the system

Two years ago, three of us were among 21 N.M. physicians from seven counties who signed an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal. Our goal? To highlight how the N.M. Health Security Plan could alleviate the state’s chronic shortage of medical providers. Now evidence for that has arrived, just as a bill to start designing that plan, HB 203, is working its way through the Legislature.

A very recent national inquiry of health care providers – mostly physicians – showed 74 out of 92 who replied would move or consider moving to New Mexico, if we implement a universal health coverage system. Positive responders included doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and counselors. The poll, done by Physicians for a National Health Program, contacted about 1,000 of its members.

Opponents argue the Health Security Plan would drive providers to flee the state. But this data suggests something very different: that many badly needed primary care providers and subspecialists would be drawn to practice here if we were to achieve universal health coverage via this route. Also, a 2020 independent financial analysis of this new approach showed huge savings while assuming no reduction in providers’ incomes, so there would be no financial reason for providers to leave New Mexico. Logic and the evidence clearly favor a future net gain in providers, not a net loss.

The truth is that insurance companies are terrified of losing a big chunk of their business to a new, nonprofit, co-op-style health plan. In response, they hope to scare us into believing a myth about a flood of providers moving away.

Right now, New Mexico ranks 40th in the nation in access to medical care. 32 out of 33 counties are, totally or partially, considered Health Professional Shortage Areas. Our current approach is failing. Also, in 2019, New Mexico had the oldest physician workforce in America. Looming retirements will make matters worse in coming years.

The new information also confirms what we know from clinical experience: Most providers are weary of wasting energy on multiple drug formularies, excessive “prior authorizations,” network obstacles, assisting uninsured/underinsured patients, etc. If New Mexico greatly reduces those aggravations, we believe it’s bound to help the state keep and attract providers.

Consider this fact: Three national studies since 2017 show that 56%-66% of doctors are fed up and now favor a national health system. In the absence of that, where would they most likely choose to work? New Mexico, assuming we adopt this innovative, multi-payer approach that makes sure everyone is covered, is simpler, costs less, largely eliminates insurance networks and expands mental health care.

We ask you to imagine just 1% of America’s providers pondering moving to New Mexico. If only one-quarter of that group actually relocated, New Mexico would gain over 3,000 primary care providers and subspecialists in the next five to 10 years. Let’s be first out of the gate, and give those caring, frustrated providers a new home. HB 203 starts the process; please urge your legislators’ support.

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