Doctor: Budget cut will worsen NJ doc shortage

March 24, 2009 10:42:50 AM PDT
New Jersey's physician shortage will worsen unless an $8 million budget cut to teaching hospitals is restored, a doctor told the Assembly Budget Committee Tuesday. Dr. J. Richard Goldstein, president of the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals, which represents 10 institutions, was among the first to testify as budget hearings began Tuesday in Trenton and Montclair.

"You cannot be for health care reform and be for this budget," Goldstein told the panel.

He said the proposed budget cut to teaching hospitals effectively eliminates funding for 69 medical residents. Goldstein said New Jersey is projected to have 2,800 fewer doctors in 10 years.

Expanding health care coverage, as Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature have been pushing to do, will be impossible without enough primary care physicians to handle more patients, Goldstein said.

New Jersey's aging population, the push for universal health care and shorter work weeks for new doctors are all contributing to the doctor shortage here, he added.

Tuesday's Assembly budget hearing is focused on health care, family and children's issues, and senior citizens. The Senate budget hearing is being held at Montclair State University.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine's $29.8 billion budget proposal contains $950 million in state and federal funds for hospitals, including charity care, graduate medical education reimbursements and cancer grants.

The budget requires legislative approval. Public hearings are held before the June budget vote for residents and lobbyists to offer suggestions.

In Montclair, Susan Coen asked the lawmakers not to cut funding to arts and history groups. With less money, she said layoffs would occur.

"We talk about the arts, we talk about history, as if they were something that just happened out of magic," said Coen. "They happen from people."

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald, D-Voorhees, said despite the multibillion-dollar budget gap that Corzine closed through a combination of federal stimulus money, spending cuts and increases in taxes and fees, New Jersey is faring better than some states.

In California, for example, 41,000 school officials received pink slips. Additionally, Washington state is considering taking billions from health care.

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Associated Press Writer Eli Segall in Montclair contributed to this report.

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