As a physician in Curry County, I often see the need for rural patients to seek care in nearby Texas. In some cases, care that is available less than an hour away in Texas could mean the difference between life and death.
There is only one hospital with a Level I trauma center that can provide comprehensive service – University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. New Mexico has no Level II trauma centers to collaborate with UNMH. When patients in rural parts of New Mexico receive emergency treatment and have been stabilized, they have two choices: A 3½-hour drive to Albuquerque, or about half that to two Level I trauma centers in Texas.
That’s why I applaud the New Mexico Supreme Court’s recent decision that recognizes that cross-border medical services in Texas are essential to New Mexico residents. This is the outcome of the court’s ruling that Texas physicians serving New Mexico patients in Texas will be able to serve their patients under the protections of law in the state in which they are practicing.
Without this ruling, the ability of Texas providers to treat New Mexico patients would have been shaken. Texas physicians treating New Mexico patients would have been exposed to unlimited liability. This would have endangered access to health care, especially for the most vulnerable patients – those whose physicians already face low reimbursement rates and are without the ability to pass on or absorb additional costs.
Physicians outside of New Mexico can now rest assured they are protected by liability protections in states where they are licensed. Physicians in New Mexico can now confidently refer their patients to their colleagues in Texas, ensuring access to much-needed specialty care for their patients, which is very limited in rural New Mexico. And New Mexico patients know they will not be turned away by physicians unable to afford to treat them due to increased costs.
A coalition of national, state and local medical societies, including the American Medical Association, the New Mexico Medical Society and the Texas Medical Association, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of maintaining access to cross-border health care. The Texas Alliance for Patient Access, the University of Texas System, and medical malpractice insurers including The Doctors Company and Texas Medical Liability Trust also worked to overturn the decision.
As chairman of The Doctors Company’s New Mexico Physician Advisory Board, I applaud all of these efforts to ensure the scales of justice were balanced in favor of the practice of good medicine.
As a physician, I believe the Supreme Court struck a fair balance between access to care for all New Mexicans and the rights of patients to pursue legal remedies when they allege injury. It’s a win-win for patients and physicians alike.
Dr. Haynes, previously a surgeon, currently has a general medical practice in Clovis.