New York State Exposed: Why is it so hard to find a doctor?

Posted at: 02/24/2014 7:21 AM
Updated at: 02/24/2014 6:04 PM
By: Rebecca Leclair

The Rochester area is blessed with some of the finest medical professionals in the country, but some have gone to different states because of the many challenges in running a medical practice in New York.

There are now thousands of people in our area looking for a doctor, because for the first time, they have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. While the health care system in Rochester started preparing for the influx of new patients even before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, there are problems in New York State that sets New York aside from all other states in the country. And it is causing lots of frustration.

Diane Eccleston is so happy to finally be able to sit down with a cup of coffee and fill out the paperwork to get her husband and son a new doctor.

Eccleston’s 19-year-old son can’t go to the pediatrician anymore and her husband’s doctor retired, so even though neither man is sick right now, she felt desperate. Searching for hours for a doctor close to their Henrietta home, willing to accept their insurance, she found one. 

Eccleston said, "In the course of finding that particular doctor, I’ve waited three weeks before I finally received the paper work to fill out. So I’m sure it will be several months to get those appointments."

You can find doctors accepting new patients, but be prepared; their practice might be 10-20 miles from your house. Right now, there is one physician for every 250 people in the eight county region around Rochester. Forty four percent of primary care physicians are not accepting new patients.

Nancy Adams, Monroe County Medical Society, said, “The reality is if you are an adult looking for a primary care physician, you might not get your first choice." 

Nancy Adams represents the 3,000 doctors in this region and understands the frustration of patients who can't find the services they need.

Adams said, “Not for primary care, not for geriatrics. There are certain sub specialties where I worry. Like child psychiatry, we are in very short supply.  Our general surgeons are aging out. Many of them are retirement age."   

One reason doctors decide not to practice in New York is the high cost of malpractice insurance. New York is one of 15 states that don't have a cap on payouts to patients. New York leads the nation in the number of lawsuits and the amount paid out. The state paid out $760 million last year, which is more than twice the next highest state in Pennsylvania.

Since 2008, Assemblyman Brian Kolb has proposed legislation with fellow republican Stephen Hawley to cap pain and suffering payouts at $250,000. He says this could control insurance costs, but the bill has never made it to the floor. News10NBC asked him, who do they blame? He says the democrats in control and powerful lobbying from the legal community.

Assemblyman Kolb said, “If you look at a doctor wanting to practice in New York State and their medical malpractice insurance is twice or three or four times if he or she took her practice to another state. This is an economic issue that ultimately results in a shortage of physicians and dentists in our state."

The good news is the Rochester region has the lowest insurance rates of the entire state. The state has about $7,000 dollars a year for internists, compared to $36,000 a year in Long Island. For obstetricians, it's much more dramatic. It is $37,000 a year here and $186,000 a year downstate.

Nancy Adams will make a trip to Albany next month to once again ask legislators to find ways to lower the cost of malpractice insurance, but she's not hopeful.

Adams said, “We really need some legislative help. The litigators have a very strong lobby and unfortunately they have a lot to gain from leaving the system the way it is.”

Malpractice lawyers News10NBC spoke with did not want to be interviewed on camera, but they did say the malpractice caps instituted in some states, have now been declared unconstitutional because the amounts are simply arbitrary.

Assemblyman Kolb’s bill is being forwarded through committee once again. News10NBC will follow it to see if it even makes it to the Assembly floor for debate. Legislators in other states have already taken action to curb the costs.