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We have a column this week from a medical doctor, Rebecca Coalson, that confirms some of the recent fears I’ve had regarding the medical community in New Mexico.
For years, we’ve known recruiting doctors to New Mexico has been a challenge.
Doctors, no surprise, hold education as a high priority. For themselves and their families. New Mexico’s long-maligned public education system has frequently been cited by outside medical professionals as a deterrent to the Land of Enchantment.
As much as we love our big, rural state, with big skies and long vistas, many doctors who grew up and were educated on the east or west coasts wouldn’t even consider going to “the middle of nowhere.”
Still, there were many medical professionals who recognized many of the beautiful things we love about our state.
However, the New Mexico Legislature made a move in 2021 that made it difficult for even doctors who love our state to stay here or come here in the first place.
In that still-Covid-covered session, lawmakers passed a law that increased medical malpractice caps exponentially. That instantly increased the cost of being a doctor here, as malpractice insurance increased commensurately. Caps previously in the range of $500,000 increased to $5 or $6 million.
In addition, it greatly increased the risk for doctors practicing here. It has put a burden on our hospitals, and made it even tougher on small, independent doctors.
I recently learned of an El Paso doctor who had the opportunity to come to Las Cruces, just for a couple of days a week, and increase his annual salary by about a million dollars. He refused the offer, given the dangerous environment for a doctor practicing in New Mexico.
I’ve been told that in 2000, Las Cruces had about 22 pediatricians. Today, there are six.
That decline has been caused by multiple, varied factors, but the malpractice caps could be the final nail in the coffin.
Could there really be a New Mexico with no practicing doctors? Probably not, but if you were to write a script to get to that dark place, you would start with this malpractice cap. In Las Cruces, we at least have the advantage of driving 40 miles south to doctors and medical facilities in El Paso. Roswellians can go to Lubbock, and Lordsburgers can go to Tucson, but much of the rest of the state won’t have such options.
It is a fact malpractice happens. When it does, we hope justice prevails and victims and their families receive compensation. Ironically, though, as we make New Mexico less attractive to doctors, we actually increase the odds of having less skilled doctors come to our state, potentially increasing the odds of malpractice.
The legislature has the opportunity to correct this mistake.
For the good of our state, let’s hope they do.