Healthcare Law Will Aggravate Primary Care Doctor Shortage

April 13, 2010

waiting roomExperts are predicting that not enough primary-care physicians will be available to treat the millions of people who will soon be insured under the new federal healthcare law.

The Wall Street Journal reports that according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the nation could see a shortage of 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years, with the demand greatest for primary-care physicians. "It will probably take 10 years to even make a dent into the number of doctors that we need out there," said Atul Grover, chief advocacy officer of the AAMC, who was quoted in the Journal.

The problem is severe in Mississippi. The Clarion Ledger reports that according to the AAMC, the state has 63.8 active primary-care physicians for every 100,000 people, while the national average is 89.6.

"With more people covered, access is certainly going to be a problem," noted Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, who was quoted in the Ledger. The school is working to increase enrollment, but Keeton said budgetary issues are slowing efforts.

Some steps have been taken to alleviate the crisis: Last month, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine announced that it will be offering a significantly less expensive three-year medical degree in primary-care medicine. In October, the AAMC reported that medical school enrollment increased slightly in 2008 by 2 percent, with half of the increase due to the opening of four new medical schools. But the association warned that future graduates could face a shortage of residency slots, which would cut down on the number of physicians who could be trained.

The Tennessean quotes similarly dire statistics: According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the nation will be short nearly 140,000 primary-care doctors by 2025.

"The number of primary care doctors has stayed flat, but the American population has not," explained Dr. George Holmes, founder of Family Practice Associates at Southern Hills Medical Center, who was interviewed by The Tennessean. "The patient suffers if we don't have enough people to give them care."

Beginning in 2013, Medicare will give a 10 percent bonus to those who work in areas with a doctor shortage. But many medical students now opt for specialties which pay significantly more. A radiologist, for example, can earn a $500,000 salary, compared to the $150,000 salary of a primary-care doctor.

"The average medical student's debt is $130,000, and for a young physician who is concerned about debt, there is a tendency to overlook primary care for other specialties," explained Dr. Wayne Riley, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, who was quoted by The Tennessean. "They think other specialties will be a quicker way for them to pay off their loans."

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Doctors: Reforms Complicate Woes," Clarion Ledger, April 11, 2010

"Health Law May Worsen Family Doctor Shortage," The Tennessean, April 11, 2010, Christina E. Sanchez

"Medical Schools Can't Keep Up," The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2010, Suzanne Sataline and Shirley S. Wang

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