SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexicans could have longer waits for a doctor or specialist as demand grows for medical services because of an aging population and expanded insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), legislative auditors said Wednesday.
A report released by the Legislative Finance Committee said state residents could encounter growing problems of access to medical care due to the potential need of 2,000 physicians, 3,000 registered nurses and as many as 800 dentists.
Up to 172,000 uninsured New Mexicans are expected to receive medical coverage next year either through an expansion of Medicaid or a state-run health insurance exchange. More than 400,000 New Mexicans lack health care coverage.
“The number of health care professionals and their maldistribution throughout the state cannot adequately meet current demand, let alone the additional pressures brought about by the newly insured in 2014,” the report said.
“In the near term, the lack of supply will result in longer wait times to see a provider and more difficulty accessing specialists. As New Mexico’s population expands and becomes proportionately older, the state can expect even greater health care access problems.”
Auditors said “it’s unlikely that New Mexico will experience a train wreck” in 2014 but there will be a gradual deterioration of access to health care.
Auditors recommended the state take a number of steps to increase the number of health care providers, including physician assistants and nurse practitioners who can help ease the shortage of doctors.
“About half of the population is basically healthy and can be cared for by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, a professional group that can be trained more quickly and at less cost than physicians,” the report said.
However, New Mexico produces more physicians than it does nurse practitioners. From 2007 to 2011, the state’s public colleges and universities educated 234 nurse practitioners, and 263 physicians came out of the New Mexico’s medical school. There were 79 physician assistants educated during that same time.
The report said the total number of registered nurse degrees from New Mexico schools dropped from 2007 to 2011 despite the state providing $28 million to nursing programs since 2004.