Doctor shortage in New Mexico expected to worsen

New Mexico officials say the state is facing its worst shortage of primary-care providers at a time when thousands are expected to enroll in state and federal health insurance exchanges.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that the federal government has designated every county statewide, except one, as having a shortage.

The latest figures show the state has 1,429 active primary physicians but another 219 are needed, based on the population.

That need will only increase with 160,000 new Medicaid patients expected this year and residents purchasing coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the New Mexico Primary Care Association, 76 federally funded health clinics reported wait times for non-urgent calls between one and four weeks.

"I'm not crying wolf at this point," said executive director David Roddy. "But I think as people come into the system, that we're going to see ... longer waits for primary care appointments."

Gov. Susana Martinez and state lawmakers are hoping to get approval for proposals to bridge the doctor gap. In recent months, Martinez unveiled a $5 million package of initiatives to go before this year's legislative session. They include beefing up loan repayment programs and adding new positions for primary care physicians and nurse practitioners at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

"Expanding Medicaid was the right thing to do for New Mexico," Martinez said last week. "But we have an important obligation to meet the new demands imposed by it."

The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed diverting $11.6 million to increasing medical residencies and loan repayment programs, and medical education funding.

The shortage is also enhanced by an anticipated wave of retiring physicians. New MexicoHealth Resources, Inc., a nonprofit that seeks to recruit health care providers, reports the state has the highest percentage nationwide of physicians 60 years and older.

"This is what is really going to hit New Mexico," said Jerry Harrison, the nonprofit's director whose family doctor and dentist retired last year.

Officials are also concerned that rural areas of the state will feel the shortage more severely. A report by the UNM Health Sciences Center said most of the current supply ofhealth providers is urban-based. The report proposed recruiting nurse practitioners, who require less training and can perform a lot of the procedures a physician can, could help ease the shortage.



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