The United States faces a major physician shortage, and it will only get worse. Aging baby boomers will create a growing demand for medical services at the same time Obamacare comes on line with its new demands.
Complicating matters is the fact that many physicians are also baby boomers—meaning part of the solution will increasingly become part of the problem.
The Washington Post reports that nearly 40% of doctors are 55 or older and a third of all nurses are over the age of 50. These boomers are on the cusp of retirement—and the number of students on track to graduate from medical and nursing school will not be adequate to replace them in their fields.
Peter Buerhaus, a nurse and health-care economist and a professor at Vanderbilt University, forecasts that, in 10 years, the healthcare system will be short about 300,000 nurses. Buerhaus and his colleague David Auerbach also predict “there will be at least 100,000 fewer doctors in the workplace than the 1.1 million the federal government projects will be needed in 2020 under the health-care overhaul.”
It’s an uncomfortable situation when Obamacare increases medical demand at the same time that the supply of docs is dwindling. And Obamacare will only “bend the doc curve down” even faster. For some physicians, the health care overhaul itself is driving them to retire early.
Why? Many docs are nervous about the fact that the primary way Obamacare expands health coverage is by adding 18 million people more people to the Medicaid rolls. Medicaid pays doctors notoriously low reimbursement rates. Often, these rates don’t even cover the cost of seeing the patient, so doctors wind up losing money by treating Medicaid patients.
A massive influx of new Medicaid patients caused by Obamacare is one reason why many doctors may look to retire early. The accompanying increase in government regulation and oversight is another. Given their past experience with government health programs, many doctors associate this with a loss of physician autonomy and unwarranted interference in the physician-patient relationship.
Daniel Palestrant, MD, writes for Forbes.com: “According to a recent survey of physicians conducted by Athena Health and Sermo, 79 percent of physicians are less optimistic about the future of medicine, 66 percent indicated that they would consider dropping out of government health programs, and 53 percent would consider opting out of insurance altogether.”
Faced with a serious doctor shortage and a massive increase in demand on the medical system, meaningful healthcare reform should increase patients access to their doctors, not encourage more doctors to close shop.
This post was co-authored by John Scot Overbey.