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Another Voice: Bill would exacerbate WNY doctor shortages

By Willie Underwood and Thomas J. Madejski

New York State recently received the dubious distinction as the absolute worst state in the country in which to be a doctor, in large part due to our excessive liability exposure.

Yet, instead of seeking to address this complex problem, a one-sided bill was passed out of Albany in the final hours of the 2017 legislative session that will make this problem even worse.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo must veto this bill.

Western New York residents should be very concerned about what this bill could mean for our local health care infrastructure.

We are already seeing examples of shortages. A 2015 report from the Healthcare Association of New York State noted that 86 percent of upstate hospitals indicated that there are times when they have to transfer patients from their emergency departments because the specialist they need is not available.

And it’s not just specialty care at risk. The same HANYS study reported that 71 percent of all hospitals noted that their primary care capacity was insufficient to meet current needs, and 77 percent indicated that it was insufficient to meet future needs.

Those numbers are frightening. However, legislation to greatly expand liability could make the existing access to care problems far worse.

If signed, the bill would thrust huge new costs on our already struggling health care system at a time when report after report has suggested that we could be facing huge cuts coming out of Washington.

Already, New York has by far and away the highest medical liability costs in the country. In fact, we have twice as many total payouts as the second-highest state, Pennsylvania.

And we exceed many times over the total payouts of states like California, Texas and Florida, states with far better climates for which we are competing to retain and attract physicians.

In fact, New York spends 500 percent more per person on medical liability costs than the state of California because, like a majority of states (but not New York), it has enacted comprehensive liability reform.

Given these multiple threats, it is stunning that the Legislature passed a bill to increase lawsuits and costs against the health care system without enacting counterbalancing measures to bring down these costs.

At the very least, this bill will accelerate the already extraordinary number of physicians who are forced to abandon their medical practices, and seek employment at an institution.

Worse yet, it could continue an exodus of physicians out of our communities who may be unable to pay these premiums, and deter others from wanting to come here. We urge the governor to veto this legislation and bring everyone to the table to negotiate a fair resolution.

Let’s assure that we have an adequate supply of physicians to meet our patients’ care needs.

Willie Underwood, M.D., is president of the Erie County Medical Society. Thomas J. Madejski, M.D., is president-elect of the Medical Society of the State of New York.

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