Tuesday April 13, 2010

Doctor Shortage Looms Thanks to Health Care Law: Medical Association

By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 13, 2010 ( – America faces a shortage of as many as 150,000 primary care physicians in the next 15 years, a threat directly aggravated by the new health care reform law, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the AAMC projects a worsening shortage – despite an ongoing push by teaching hospitals and medical schools to boost doctors’ ranks – thanks to the sudden influx of insured individuals under the new law.

Such a shortage could spell longer wait times and less access to health care, notes the WSJ.

While the new law includes some incentives to med students considering primary-care medicine, such as a 10% Medicare pay boost, the stream of new doctors will inevitably be strangled by a lack of medical resident positions across America. All medical students must complete a three-year residency to train in hospitals before becoming a full-fledged physician.

The Journal notes that doctors’ groups had hoped that a provision to increase the number of funded residency slots would be included in the health care bill, but to no avail.

“It will probably take 10 years to even make a dent into the number of doctors that we need out there,” Atul Grover, the AAMC’s chief advocacy officer, told the WSJ.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that 28 states are now considering broadening the authority of nurse practitioners to make up for the shortfall – a move the American Medical Association has reportedly condemned.

In addition, the problem of future doctors may be compounded by the present: an alarming poll conducted by The Medicus Firm just before the heatlh bill’s passage in March found that “nearly one-third of physicians responding to the survey indicated that they will want to leave medical practice after health reform is implemented.”

Eight percent of respondents in the poll said they would quit immediately, even if retirement age was nowhere in sight.

The doctor shortage may also be aggravated by a lack of new hospital space: reported Monday that a provision in the health care bill cuts many doctor-owned hospitals out of Medicare and Medicaid payments, and because of it, more than 60 such hospitals in the planning stages across America have been cancelled.

Molly Sandvig, executive director of Physician Hospitals of America, told that existing hospitals would suffer as well. “The existing hospitals are greatly affected. They can’t grow. They can’t add beds. They can’t add rooms,” said Sandvig. “Basically, it stifles their ability to change and meet market needs. This is really an unfortunate thing as well, because we are talking about some of the best hospitals in the country.”

Aside from the doctor and hospital shortage, the National Right to Life Committee has already sternly warned that the bill’s power grab, coupled with cost-saving measures, will undoubtedly lead to health care rationing in another respect. The health reform law, they note, bars senior citizens from using their own money to purchase private health insurance to supplement Medicare – despite the bill’s massive cuts to the Medicare program.

NRLC contends that, under this restriction, seniors will have little or no option for treatment outside what Washington bureaucrats deem is adequatley cost-efficient: “Treatment that a doctor and patient in consultation deem needed or advisable to save that patient’s life or preserve or improve the patient’s health but which the government decides is too costly – even if the patient is willing and able to pay for it – will run afoul of the imposed standards,” they wrote.