Is Question 2 driving doctors out of Maine?

Gov. Paul LePage repeated his claims this week that Maine’s high taxes are driving successful people out of the state.

The press event was a whistle stop in his ongoing campaign against Question 2, a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 that voters approved in November as a way to award more state aid to classrooms.  LePage proposes getting rid of the surtax after 2020 in his two-year budget and the Legislature will consider efforts to do away with it this year.

“We are already seeing an enormous outflow, out migration of our more wealthy residents,” Lepage said on Monday.

He mentioned doctors at least twice as among those fleeing the state’s high tax burden.

“People are leaving. I mean doctors and lawyers, scientists … Many of the large hospitals, some of the laboratories, are saying, ‘We can’t recruit.'”

Since I’m all about health care, I wanted to know specifically about the effect on the medical profession. LePage’s comments appear to be based on anecdotal information, including letters from some medical professionals bemoaning the passage of Question 2:

  • A medical researcher and his radiologist wife who planned to move to New Hampshire, “where our hard work is appreciated and not demonized.”
  • A dermatologist who would take his special skills to New Hampshire “if I was not tied down in Maine with a wife and 3 children.”
  • A large primary care practice that fears “serious effects on our ability to attract and retain physicians.”

Are doctors really packing up their stethoscopes and running for the New Hampshire border?

Source: MetroCreative

It’s difficult to say, but the Maine Medical Association, which lobbies on behalf of doctors, specifically asked its nearly 4,000 members about this in February.

One doctor was so furious that he or she planned to leave the state, said Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the association.

Another half dozen members said Question 2 was harming recruitment efforts, he said. But almost all acknowledged that Question 2 wasn’t the only factor, among others such as medical malpractice policies and salary rates.

“The taxation policy in the state is well down that list,” Smith said. “It’s not the first thing, but it can adversely affect recruitment.”

While the impacts of Question 2 might be overstated, Maine needs a more favorable tax policy for higher earners, rather than expecting residents who are successful to carry so much of the burden, he said.

A look at the number of medical doctors licensed to practice in Maine also indicates that doctors aren’t exactly fleeing the state in droves. Last June, before Question 2 passed, there were 3,515 active physicians with a Maine address, according to the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine.

As of this week, that number had barely dipped to 3,513 — down only two.

I tried to get corresponding information from the state board that licenses osteopathic doctors, but never received a response.

The Maine Osteopathic Association, which represents nearly 400 DOs in the state, could provide no examples of doctors leaving the state, though was aware of one practice struggling with recruiting as a result of Question 2.

Then there’s the Maine Hospital Association, which lobbied against the referendum question. They’ve similarly offered up no examples of doctors leaving the state. But in opposing the referendum, the group previously argued that raising taxes on high earners would make recruiting physicians to Maine even more difficult.

Recruitment is particularly hard to quantify, since Maine’s hospitals and physician practices will never know about the doctors who shun the state from the get go because of our tax policy. Many already struggle to convince physicians to work in rural outposts where salaries are often lower and opportunities for physicians’ spouses, typically professionals as well, can be limited.






Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.