Obamacare will make U.S. doctor shortage worse

Need to see a doctor? It might take a while, thanks to Obama-Care.

A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges projects the United States will lack as many as 31,000 primary-care physicians by 2025. For specialists, the shortage could exceed 63,000 by then.

That’s not what the Obama administration promised would happen. The Department of Health and Human Services claimed that ObamaCare would help “expand the number of primary-care doctors, nurses, and physician assistants.”

The White House argued the law “invests in training and supporting thousands of new primary-care doctors and nurses.” But it’s done neither.

Instead, by expanding coverage and therefore demand for care, Obama-Care has actually exacerbated the existing shortage of primary care physicians. That’s made it more difficult for many Americans to secure high-quality health care.

From 2013 to 2014, the law increased the number of low-income patients covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by more than 9 million. As of March 2015, 8.8 million people had bought insurance through HealthCare.gov and 2.9 million had bought it through state exchanges. Another 2.3 million adults under the age of 26 have been able to stay on their parents’ health plans.

These folks may have health insurance now. But that doesn’t mean they can actually get care from a doctor.

According to the Robert Graham Center, a health care think tank, ObamaCare will directly increase the need for primary-care physicians — sometimes called “family doctors” — by more than 8,000 by 2025. The health sector will need another 33,000 to keep up with America’s growing population. The retirement of the Baby Boomers will require another 10,000 new doctors.

As Atul Gover, chief public-policy officer of the AAMC, has warned, “I worry about giving 30 million people a card and a false promise.” That’s a legitimate concern. Many doctors are already struggling to meet this new patient demand.

According to The Physicians Foundation, 81% of 20,000 surveyed physicians said they were “either over-extended or at full capacity” — up from 75% in 2012. Only 19% said they had time to see more patients.

Other doctors said they wanted to cut back or leave the practice of medicine altogether. Forty-four percent planned to reduce access to their services by cutting back on the number of patients they’d see, reducing hours, or retiring. Thirty-nine percent suggested they’ll retire earlier than planned.

The reason for these decisions? ObamaCare. “We already knew there was a problem — and we knew implementation of ACA would potentially make it worse,” noted Farzan Bharucha, a health care strategist with the consultancy Kurt Salmon.

A report out of Massachusetts General Hospital agreed: “The continuing shortage of primary-care physicians is expected to only worsen, as the expansion of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act increases the demand for primary care services.”

Forty-six percent of those doctors polled by The Physicians Foundation gave the law a “D” or an “F.”

Patients who can’t find a doctor often turn to already overwhelmed hospital emergency rooms, where someone has to see them — with taxpayer money covering much of the cost.

This already happening. From 2013 to 2014, states that expanded Medicaid saw the average number of ER visits spike by 5.6%. That’s three times higher than in states that rejected Medicaid.

Proponents of ObamaCare often point to expanded coverage as proof that ObamaCare is working. But access to coverage is not the same as access to care. As Ceslee D. Montgomery wrote in the Stanford Journal of Public Health, ObamaCare “introduces a scenario in which adequate care becomes the predominant health care woe, replacing coverage.”

In other words, under ObamaCare, the doctor will not see you.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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