The only problem is, they don’t have any better access than they did before. That’s because there aren’t enough doctors to see them.
That’s not an unlikely scenario at all. We’ve known for years we’ve had a doctor shortage — and that one big reason cited by doctors themselves is the onerous burdens placed on their profession by the federal government. With the draconian new rules imposed by Obamacare, the vast majority of physicians now say they’ve considered quitting.
Even if no doctor quits, the U.S. will face a shortage of at least 90,000 doctors by 2020, the government estimates. Five years after that, the shortage will be 130,000.
“Doctors clearly understand what Washington does not — that a piece of paper that says you are ‘covered’ by insurance or ‘enrolled’ in Medicare or Medicaid does not translate to actual medical care when doctors can’t afford to see patients at the lowball payments, and patients have to jump through government and insurance company bureaucratic hoops,” said Kathryn Serkes, who co-founded the DPMA.
Added Len Marquez of the American Association of Medical Colleges, “One of our primary concerns is that you’ve got an aging physician workforce and you have these new beneficiaries — these newly insured people — coming through the system. There will be strains and there will be physician shortages.”
We know what that’s like in Texas. We also learned that good public policy can avoid those shortages.
In the mid-1980s, Texas found itself losing physicians, largely because of the risk of lawsuits and diminishing returns.
“Doctors were caught between rising medical malpractice insurance costs and lower compensation from insurance-provided benefit contracts and low Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement levels,” says former state Rep. Joseph Nixon. “Combined with increasing hassles and demands to appear in court or in depositions, doctors were choosing to retire or leave Texas. In doctor-per-citizen ratio, Texas ranked 49th out of 50 states.”
Of the state’s 254 counties, more than 150 had no obstetrician in 2003, and more than 120 had no pediatrician.
But lawsuit reform was a driving force in the general elections of 2002. And when lawmakers gathered with a new Republican majority, lawsuit reform was a top priority — culminating in the 96-page House Bill 4.
At the same time, the Legislature crafted a constitutional amendment, Proposition 12, to allow a cap on non-economic damages. Voters approved it on Sept. 13, 2003.
Doctors began coming to Texas by the thousands — in fact, more than 7,000 in the first five years following the passage of Prop. 12.
The lesson here is that government can do more to prevent physician shortages — and as we’ve seen, it can do so by freeing them to practice medicine as they see fit.