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On Fishers Island, a trip to the doctor presents a unique challenge

08/12/2016 3:00 PM |

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Think you’ll need to see a doctor while you’re on Fishers Island? Get ready for a long trip.

The island off the Connecticut coast — which is part of New York State and Southold Town — can’t actually be accessed from Long Island. Instead, residents must take a ferry from Fishers Island to New London, Conn., and then catch the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point.

That turns a trip to the doctor, which should require only a few hours’ travel, into a days-long ordeal, said Candace Whitman, a local pastor and member of the Island Community Board, during the town’s annual Fishers Island meeting last Wednesday afternoon.

“When we have to see a doctor or use services in New York State, it really leaves us in the lurch,” she said.

The problem lies with the New York State health insurance market. No carrier allows New York State residents to receive in-network care in Connecticut. This means pediatrician, physician and even emergency room visits in Connecticut all cost thousands for Fishers Island residents, Ms. Whitman said.

“We have one family on the island with six children,” she said. “When they go to get their yearly well visit they have to take the ferry to New London, then to Orient Point, stay overnight in a motel and then see the doctor before they come back.”

Ms. Whitman said neither ferry runs long enough to make the entire trip in a day. Since residents have to stay overnight, costs can add up fast.

But state legislators who visited the island last Wednesday said they were researching a solution and hope to pass a law this legislative session that would carve out a section of Connecticut where Fishers Island residents could access health care.

“It’s putting a terrible burden on people,” said state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

“If someone here has to go there — because they broke their leg — they’re out-of-network,” added state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

Both Mr. LaValle and Mr. Palumbo said there could be a relatively simple solution based on a previous law.

Mr. Palumbo said Fishers Island seniors ran into a similar problem years ago when New York’s Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage wouldn’t allow them to fill prescriptions in Connecticut.

Legislators at the time — including Mr. LaValle — set aside a portion of New London where the New York program would be accepted. Both legislators were hopeful they could use requirements for the state’s public health exchange to force New York health insurance carriers to give Fishers Island residents coverage in Connecticut.

Mr. Palumbo was quick to note this potential rule change would affect only Fishers Island residents and would only apply to a small area around New London.

“This is particular to them,” Mr. Palumbo said, adding that the two offices were researching how to pass legislation to solve the problem in the coming legislative session.

Photo caption: Fishers Island Community Board member Dicky Riegel speaks before the Southold Town Board at last Wednesday’s annual board meeting on Fishers Island. Some island residents have been having trouble getting health care due to access quirks, a representative said. (Credit: Paul Squire)

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