Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) has introduced S3354 – the Volunteer Health Care Program Act – that would provide funds that states could use to assume liability when doctors volunteer their services for patients without health insurance or a means to pay for healthcare.
Of course, it would be nice if medical malpractice insurance were more affordable for all doctors, but that’s a complicated issue. It’s easy to guess that over-the-top lawsuits are what push malpractice premiums so high, but that might not be the case afterall. Whatever the reason, annual malpractice premiums alone are what most Americans would consider a good annual income. As a doctor, If you’re paying six figures for your malpractice insurance, you’re going to have to be earning a good chunk of change in order to make a decent living for yourself. So doctors have to charge more in order to cover their malpractice premiums, and then health insurance companies have to charge higher premiums in order to pay the doctors.
But back to Enzi’s proposal. The idea is to get doctors – especially those who have recently retired – to volunteer their services in order to expand access to health care for those without health insurance. But it’s tough to cough up thousands of dollars every month to pay for malpractice insurance when you’re volunteering your time. So if the government could provide funds to cover malpractice claims, doctors with time on their hands could feel comfortable giving back to their communities by volunteering to see patients who aren’t able to pay for health care. S3354 would require that states contribute matching funds in order to be eligible, so it wouldn’t just be a handout from the federal government.
I’m curious to see where this goes. Obviously there’s a lot that needs to be done from one end of our health care system to the other in order for all US citizens to truly have equal access to health care. But that will take time and the cooperative efforts of a lot of groups that have shown very little interest in cooperating thus far. So small fixes here and there might be what it takes to keep things going for the time being. If this bill passes, I would love to see Colorado get on board in order to provide more access to health care for residents without health insurance.