Despite increased access to affordable health insurance under Obamacare, Americans will be forced to confront a stark reality in the coming years: the U.S. simply does not have a large enough pool of doctors to care for its patients.
The disparity has been decades in the making, driven by an aging baby boomer population whose treatments are considerably more complex and time-consuming than younger patients’ care, as well as aging population of doctors who will likely retire in the coming decade. As Bloomberg reports, the current shortage stands at an estimated 13,000 doctors and is expected to balloon to ten times that number by 2024:
“This is a national problem across the board and it is going to get much worse,” said Christiane Mitchell, director of medical affairs for the [Association of American Medical Colleges]. “We have an aging population and a whole lot of doctors retiring. We need to increase the pipeline of new doctors.” [...]
For years, hospitals and medical schools have been trying to find solutions to meet the growing demand from patients. Schools have increased the number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants they train to do some of the work currently done by doctors. Hospitals are using video conferencing systems to reach people in remote areas. The U.S. government has offered incentives, like loan repayments and scholarships, to get doctors to practice in under-served areas. [...]
Still, those solutions aren’t coming fast enough in places like Nevada. The state has the fifth-lowest ratio of doctors to patients in the country with 188 physicians per 100,000 people, according to 2007 data, the most recently available from the Census Bureau. Wyoming, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Idaho are the only states with greater shortages, the Census figures show.
Obamacare tackles several of these problems head-on by encouraging primary and preventative care, funding community health clinics in sparsely-serviced communities, and holding providers accountable for inefficiency by withholding reimbursements from low-performing centers and mandating the use of electronic health records. And some medical schools have followed suit, encouraging young doctors to dedicate themselves to much-needed family and primary care.
But this does little to make up for the overall shortage, since the crux of the dilemma is a basic issue of supply and demand. The American consumer’s demand for health services — fueled by an aging populace and increased access to care — has increased rapidly in the last decades, but the supply of medical professionals has not experienced a corresponding boom.
Nevertheless, increased health coverage under Obamacare isn’t to blame for the current shortage. While it is true that Obamacare provides tens of millions of Americans with access to health services, any subsequent burden on doctors is a symptom of a disease that was festering long before the health law came to pass. The hard reality is that not enough Americans are becoming doctors anymore, and until that dynamic changes, American consumers will continue to face a shortage.