Obama and Federal Government Combat Coming Doctor Shortage

By 2025 the United States is going to have a doctor shortage, specifically primary care physicians, a development that could have serious consequences for the growing number of retiring baby boomers

The projected doctor deficit will continue to grow as roughly 79 million baby boomers request more medical care, except if the U.S. begins turning out more doctors. A number of recent studies claim this shortage could make it more difficult to get expedient and quality healthcare.

One of these studies was conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which estimated that by 2015 the U.S. will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed. In a decade this number will double, as the expansion of insurance coverage and the aging of retirees increases the demand for healthcare. Even excluding the Affordable Healthcare Act, the scarcity of physicians in 2025 would still exceed citizens’ requirements for doctors who are active in patient care. This report expects a shortfall of over 130,600 patient-care doctors, of 50 percent are primary-care physicians.

The doctor shortage is not a new development and has been the subject of heated debate inside Congressional meetings, especially when attempting to discount Obamacare. Opponents of the new health care law believe that this new study demonstrates that the well insured, shouldn’t have to share an increasing scarcity of doctors with the millions of uninsured.

Those who are against the Affordable Healthcare Act point to the fact that Health experts admit that there is little that the government or the medical profession will be able to do to combat the shortage by 2014. It seems that this issue will compound itself when one considers that it takes a decade to educate a physician. The drought of doctors entering into the field is even more startling when one examines that suggested government incentives and provisions will increase the number of primary care doctors by only 3,000 in the next decade, unless serious changes are made. But, that estimate will still fall drastically short of the 45,000 doctors needed in communities around the U.S.

The Obama administration has taken note of and is concerned over the future lack of physicians. They have started to delve into ways of expanding the doctor pool to meet the needs of the expanding senior and uninsured population. To lessen the far reaching impact of this shortage Obama and his cabinet are exploring several alternatives. One of the first provisions will occur 2013 and 2014 when the health care law increases Medicaid’s primary care payment in order to counteract the argument that primary care physicians are underpaid. To combat this the the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent federal panel, has suggested increasing the payment for primary care services to 10 percent in the payment for many primary care services, including office visits. Another inducement will give money to educate primary care doctors entering the field and provide incentive like rewards when they work underserved communities and build-up community health resources.  

States are also attempting to confront the doctor deficit by considering several key proposals that would lessen the blow in the coming years. Several of these proposals focus on education and the way that patients receive care. They have explored incentive based programs that are designed to up the enrollment in medical schools and residency training programs. Instead of relying on just doctors many believe relying on nurse practitioners and physician assistants could fill the gap. Lastly, they are looking to enlarge the National Health Service Corp to send doctors and nurses into underserved rural areas and poor neighborhoods.

It appears that the coming doctor shortage is inevitable. But, the provided incentives from Obama’s administration and federal proposals seek to overturn the coming tide. Primary care physicians are and will be in shorter supply until medical schools start churning out more physicians who are willing to forego into specialty fields.

-Suzanne Bernard

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