“The United States will require at least 52,000 more family doctors in the year 2025 to keep up with the growing and increasingly older U.S. population, a new study found,” ABC News reported last week. “The predictions also reflect the passage of the Affordable Care Act — a change that will expand health insurance coverage to an additional 38 million Americans.”
That doctor shortage is partially due to the number of young doctors who choose to become primary care physicians, rather than higher-paid specialists.
“The problem does not appear to be one of too few doctors in general; in fact, in 2011 a total of 17,364 new doctors emerged from the country’s medical schools, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC),” ABC explains. “Too few of these doctors, however, choose primary care as a career — an issue that may be worsening. In a 2008 census by the AAMC and the American Medical Association, researchers found that the number of medical graduates choosing a career in family medicine dropped from 5,746 in 2002 to 4,210 in 2007 — a drop of nearly 27 percent.”
That situation is going to be made worse by the Affordable Care Act. Just look at its forerunner in Massachusetts.
Predictions are dire; ABC quotes the University of Alberta’s Dr. Lee Green, who said “Primary care will be past saturated with wait times longer and will not accept any new patients. There will be an increase in hospitalizations and increase in death rates for basic preventable things like hypertension that was not managed adequately.”
What’s the solution? Part of it is to increase — not decrease — Medicare spending. Back in 1997, Congress tried to rein in Medicare costs and put a cap on how many residencies (doctor training programs) it would fund.
It’s time to lift that cap. There are savings to be had in Medicare, but not by limiting the number of new doctors we produce. We’re going to need them.
And we need to pay them adequately. Expected “savings” in Medicare (to help pay for Obamacare) include cuts to Medicare reimbursements and reducing fraud. Fraud reduction always falls short, so expect more cuts in doctors’ paychecks.
Of course, these are all problems that predate, and would exist without, Obamacare.
But the Affordable Care Act will make things worse, by increasing demand — and not merely with new patients, but with new “free” procedures and exams that will nevertheless cost physicians time and money.
The likely result of the looming doctor shortage will be an increase in complications due to untreated disease, and fuller emergency rooms.
But aren’t those things exactly what the Affordable Care Act was supposed to fix?