HEALTH

New Jersey’s Doctor Shortage in Critical Condition

Two years ago, the New Jersey Physician Workforce Task Force warned of a doctor shortage which would leave the state with 3,000 fewer doctors by 2020. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), who serves on the Health & Senior Services Committee, tells NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that legislative proposals she set forth would help stop the state’s medical brain drain.

Handlin said the situation is worse than was reported, saying the state has a full-blown crisis on its hands with nearly 70 percent of newly-minted physicians electing to leave the state and establish practices elsewhere.

“These are physicians who have trained here but don’t want to work here while 1 out of every 10 currently practicing physicians is pulling up stakes and leaving New Jersey,” explained Handlin.

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She said red tape and the fear of malpractice suits are making the healthcare situation in New Jersey unsustainable. “For instance, ob-gyns don’t want to deliver babies here because of the threat of junk lawsuits and primary care physicians like internists can’t pay their bills so they’re closing their doors,” she said, adding that “surgeons often times spend more time filing paperwork than they do in the operating room.”

Many of the conditions affecting physicians rest outside state control. Insurance companies and Medicare require significant paperwork and sets the reimbursement rate that doctors have to live by. Still, Handlin says there are measures the state can adopt to alleviate some of the burden.

First, she says the state can ameliorate the bureaucratic constraints placed on physicians by reducing the paperwork requirements which are often unnecessarily repetitive.

“Simple example — I become a physician, I apply to Washington for my license to prescribe drugs, I get the license from Washington. I then have to turn around file essentially the same forms to get the same license from Trenton which I then need to reproduce and duplicate, triplicate or quadruplicate depending on how many hospitals I practice at; and I have to do that year after year.”

She says a red tape review commission is going to scrutinize that regulation as well as as any others that will free up doctors to spend more time treating patients.

The second area of her proposal looks at the state’s malpractice insurance system which she says is affecting patient care.

“The threat of baseless litigation is so enormous that we have doctors being forced to make medical judgments while they’re looking over their shoulder at a hypothetical jury that could second guess every test they order and every procedure they do.”

So what’s Handlin’s solution? A new system called “early offer” that would provide the parties at the beginning of a legal process a voluntary option to negotiate a fair settlement. This way, “years and years of costly, unpredictable litigation which can end up bankrupting both sides is avoided,” she said.

Finally, the third remedy under the proposal would recognize doctors’ offices as small businesses. It’s a move that Handlin says would make them “eligible for some of the incentives through the New Jersey Business Employment Incentive program,” which acts to create jobs in the state.

Handlin says the chances of any of those proposals becoming realized are quite good because her legislative colleagues on the Democratic side are getting the same frantic calls from sick patients as she is.