The healthcare reform bill enacted last year will significantly increase the number of Americans with health insurance and exacerbate an already looming doctor shortage.
The Association of American Medical Colleges reported in 2010 that the United States will need an additional 130,000 doctors — general-practice physicians and specialists — in 15 years, 20 percent more doctors than are currently practicing. But medical school enrollment has been essentially flat, and about a third of American physicians are over the age of 55 and likely to retire by 2020.
Making matters worse, Congress in 1996 capped the number of new doctors Medicare would pay to train. And President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed cutting Medicare funding for training even further, by $60 billion through 2020. “If this cut is enacted, the doctor shortage would get far worse,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
At the same time, the number of patients is certain to increase. Baby boomers will be retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day, and they will require more medical care as they age. Plus, Obamacare will boost the number of Americans with health insurance or participating in Medicaid, which will mean greater demand for doctors’ services.
At present, physicians are reimbursed at roughly 78 percent of costs under Medicare, and just 70 percent under Medicaid, according to Michael Tanner, a Cato Institute senior fellow.
As a result, more and more physicians are choosing to opt out of the government programs altogether. Already, as many as a third of doctors will not participate in Medicaid, and 13 percent won’t accept Medicare patients.
With cuts in reimbursements on the horizon with Obamacare, “retirement in Florida may begin to look like a very good option” for many older doctors, observes Tanner, whose article appeared in the New York Post. “Are they really going to want to stick it out for a few more years if all they have to look forward to is more red tape for less money?”
A 2010 poll by IBD/TPP found that 45 percent of physicians would at least consider leaving their practice or taking early retirement as a result of Obamacare.
These various factors will combine to produce a shortfall of more than 150,000 doctors over the next 15 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
As a start in dealing with the problem, the Obama commission’s recommended cuts in training funds should be set aside, Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, writes in the Journal. “Secondly, the cap enacted in 1996 on training new doctors should finally be lifted. These two steps would go a long way to addressing our country’s medical needs.”
Tanner concludes, “Promising universal health coverage is easy. But what does universal coverage mean if you can’t actually see a doctor?”