ObamaCare and Doctor Shortages

By admin
August 6, 2012

As President Obama's signature health care law begins extending coverage to some 30 million Americans in 2014, some health experts fear a new “invisible problem” lurking on the horizon: a doctor shortage.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed, with that number more than doubling by 2025, as the expansion of insurance coverage and the aging of baby boomers increase the demand for care.

Even without the health care law, the shortfall of doctors in 2025 would still exceed 100,000. Unfortunately, some health experts, including many who support the health reform law, say there is little that the government or medical community can do to close the gap by 2014, especially considering it takes a decade to train a doctor.

“We have a shortage of every kind of doctor, except for plastic surgeons and dermatologists,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, the dean of the new medical school at the University of California, Riverside, founded in part to address the region’s doctor shortage. “We’ll have a 5,000-physician shortage in 10 years, no matter what anybody does.”

According to the New York Times, experts describe the doctor shortage as an “invisible problem” because patients still get care, but the process is often slow and difficult. In Riverside, California, for instance, it has left residents driving long distances to doctors, languishing on waiting lists, overusing emergency rooms and even forgoing care.

The Obama administration has sought to ease the shortage through a variety of measures. The health care law increases Medicaid’s primary care payment rates in 2013 and 2014, and also includes money to train new primary care doctors, reward them for working in underserved communities and strengthen community health centers.

While the provision within the new health care law are expected to increase the number of primary care doctors by around 3,000 in the next decade, experts estimate communities around the country need closer to 45,000.

Dr. Mark D. Smith, who heads the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation, says in light of the doctor shortages, "It's going to be necessary to use the resources that we have smarter,” including building more walk-in clinics, allowing nurses to provide more care, and encouraging doctors to work in teams.

[image via New York Times]

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