America’s doctor shortage is becoming more and more severe. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently projected a shortfall of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.
ObamaCare didn’t cause this crisis. But it has made the problem worse. The law created countless administrative headaches for doctors. Some have responded by retiring early or leaving the practice of medicine altogether.
Many more may join them if Democrats are successful in their bid to launch a full-scale government takeover of the U.S. health care system. Single-payer health care would exacerbate America’s doctor shortage and make quality care much harder to obtain.
Doctors are increasingly hanging up their stethoscopes — or at least using them less often. Within the next three years, one in five doctors intends to cut back his hours, according to a recent survey by the Physicians Foundation. More than 14% plan to retire. Another 13% will seek nonclinical jobs.
Morale is low. Half of doctors wouldn’t recommend the profession to their children, even though earning a medical degree has traditionally been one of the surest paths to a lucrative and socially prestigious career.
Doctors cite growing regulatory burdens and paperwork as major reasons why they’ve soured on their profession. President Obama deserves much of the blame for this red tape.
Physicians’ Digital Hell
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package — required doctors to store patients’ medical records digitally rather than on paper. If they refused to comply, the government would cut their Medicare reimbursements.
The Affordable Care Act, passed in March of the following year, strengthened this mandate and incentivized doctors to adopt electronic health record software that makes patients’ information available to physicians across many different practices. These systems were supposed to eliminate paperwork and reduce miscommunication.
But many of the systems were so poorly designed that they created new inefficiencies and administrative hassles. According to a recent Stanford Medicine survey of primary care physicians, “62 percent of time devoted to each patient is being spent in the EHR.” Three in four primary care doctors say electronic health records have added hours to their workday. And 71% say they’re a cause of physician burnout.
By wasting doctors’ time and distracting them from their patients, the EHR mandate gave physicians a new reason to leave the profession.
If doctors think Obamacare has made their jobs harder, they’ll hate what’s in store for them under the brand of single-payer championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and now former President Barack Obama, who endorsed Medicare for All in a landmark speech on Sept. 7.
Just look at the plight of physicians in the United Kingdom’s single-payer regime, the National Health Service. The average salary for an NHS general practitioner is $117,000. In the United States, primary care physicians make nearly double that sum.
Sen. Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, S. 1804, calls for paying doctors at current Medicare reimbursement rates, which are roughly 40% lower than private insurers’ reimbursement rates. Dramatic pay cuts would no doubt be a disaster for physician retention.
Doctor Shortage: The British Lesson
Practicing medicine in the NHS, which rations care to control costs, is incredibly stressful. General practitioners are often forced to see up to 70 patients a day.
Such demanding workloads take a severe toll on physicians’ health. In a recent survey of young British doctors, eight in ten report experiencing “excessive stress” at least sometimes. Nearly a third have a mental disorder of some sort, according to a 2011 study in the British Medical Journal.
The heavy caseloads are bad for patients, too. Physicians experiencing burnout are twice as likely to make a mistake as doctors who aren’t overburdened. Incorrect prescriptions and diagnoses can easily prove fatal.
Given the low pay and crushing workloads, it’s no surprise that doctors are leaving Britain’s 70-year old single-payer system at an alarming rate. Over the last decade, the NHS has lost nearly 5,000 general practitioners. According to the chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the country is “hemorrhaging family doctors.”
It’s not just physicians who are leaving — more than 33,000 British nurses abandon their profession every year. That’s enough to staff over 20 hospitals. Working conditions are so bad that some are leaving to work at grocery stores, which have better hours and pay.
If Democrats successfully implement an entirely government-run health system, the doctor shortage will go from severe to cataclysmic. And if trained physicians with the time and desire to see patients become even rarer commodities, rationing and long wait times will become commonplace.