Don’t Undermine Access To Healthcare In The Bronx

By Dr. Jerry Balentine


Underserved communities in the Bronx, where health disparities run rampant, may find themselves on the front lines of a new crisis.


Gov. Kathy Hochul will soon decide whether to sign a well-intended but deeply flawed bill that has the potential to upend the healthcare system. It is almost identical to a bill she vetoed in January. The proposal would dramatically expand liability under New York’s wrongful death law. Unfortunately, as written, the bill’s unintended consequences will severely increase operating costs for doctors and hospitals. This will prove to be devastating, and stifle efforts to improve patient outcomes throughout the borough, the city, and across the state.


Outsized medical professional liability insurance premiums weigh heavily on private practices, especially high-risk specialized services like prenatal and maternity care, neurology, and surgery. These costs are significantly higher in the Bronx than elsewhere in New York, reflecting long-standing disparities in the borough. This legislation will further drive up medical professional liability insurance costs by 40-45%, diverting funding away from patient-centric solutions. As a result of New York’s already hostile liability climate, many physicians avoid practicing here at all, making routine care and specialized procedures difficult to access. The state leads the nation in medical liability payouts per capita, and expansive new liability laws will turn this crisis into a catastrophe. Instead of legislation that will increase costs, we need policies that actually tear down obstacles and encourage doctors to practice in the communities with the highest need.


The Bronx suffered a higher death rate and greater economic losses from COVID-19 than any other county in New York. As doctors and hospitals work to make our communities healthier, the last thing we need is to waste more on lawsuits and liability instead of patient care. If this bill is signed into the law, the elderly and people with disabilities will need to travel further distances to access the care they need. Facing new financial hardships, clinics may close, and providers will seek opportunities elsewhere, compromising the delivery of everything from blood pressure screenings and routine vaccinations to dialysis and surgeries.


This bill threatens Gov. Hochul’s historic $20 billion investment in healthcare, especially funds for safety net hospitals and clinics. Low-income communities rely heavily on these institutions, which provide vital care on shoestring budgets. In the Bronx – New York’s poorest county – residents need a robust network of accessible options.


As we work to improve health outcomes in underserved communities, doctors and hospitals in the Bronx need support from Albany – not an expensive new mandate. With so many already struggling to get the care they need, this becoming law would be disastrous. Gov. Hochul should be applauded for recognizing the long-term effects of this measure, vetoing it, and sending it back to the legislature to study. Unfortunately, that analysis has not happened. As such, the medical community looks forward to seeing Hochul once again veto the proposal. Doctors throughout the state are ready to collaborate with lawmakers and the Hochul administration on a more balanced bill. Any amendments in this area of law can’t come at the expense of communities like those in the Bronx.


There is no justice in undermining access to lifesaving care for New York families.

Jerry Balentine, DO, FACEP, is a board-certified expert in emergency medicine who served as chief medical officer for a Bronx-based healthcare system. He has held numerous positions throughout his career, including hospital medical director, emergency department director, and residency director. He is a past president of the New York Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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