As our nation continues to debate health insurance mandates and cost-drivers that left preventative medicine out of reach for many, volunteer doctors quietly set up shop in some of New Jersey’s most underserved communities, trying to alleviate public health burdens on a patient-by-patient basis.
Trenton is one of these communities. In a Trenton Times report earlier this week, City Health Officer James Brownlee explained that years of funding cuts forced its clinics to greatly reduce the services they could offer.
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is federal “free clinic” status.
According to the Times, such a designation would provide “essential malpractice insurance for a new staff of volunteer doctors, nurses, and other professionals who have retired from local hospitals,” bringing with it an opportunity for clinics to begin expanding their outreach once again.
Medical liability insurance is routinely cited by New Jersey’s medical community as a disincentive for doctors to practice in the Garden State. Such premiums, particularly for OB-GYNs, are significantly higher than premiums in other states.
New Jersey faces a doctor shortage by the end of the decade if we simply do nothing. Physicians who volunteer a portion of their retirement to continue treating patients help close a gap that we have yet to fill – a gap that will only increase as the number of physicians per capita decreases.
Some aren’t convinced that assuaging doctors’ concerns about medical liability insurance increases access to care. But in some of Trenton’s most underserved neighborhoods, it’s clear that it may make a world of difference.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway is the sponsor of A-2178, which would provide civil immunity for certain volunteer physicians, nonprofit clinics, and federally qualified health centers. It was second-referenced to the Assembly Judiciary Committee after passing favorably from the Health and Senior Services Committee in May. Chairman Peter Barnes has not indicated whether he will post it for a vote.
The bill’s Senate counterpart, S-1165, has the bipartisan support of Senators Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Diane Allen (R-Burlington).
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