Sufficient Scruples

Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.

October 1, 2010

“Duh” Headline of the Day: Patients Without Doctors Will Need Doctors

by @ 2:05 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles

The Association of American Medical Colleges released a report yesterday that reaches a fairly obvious conclusion: increased healthcare coverage through Obamacare and the Baby Boomers’ entering Medicare will result in an increased demand for physician services, and thus worsen the current imbalance between providers and patients.

The U.S. healthcare reform law will worsen a shortage of physicians as millions of newly insured patients seek care, the Association of American Medical Colleges said on Thursday.

The group’s Center for Workforce Studies released new estimates that showed shortages would be 50 percent worse in 2015 than forecast.

“While previous projections showed a baseline shortage of 39,600 doctors in 2015, current estimates bring that number closer to 63,000, with a worsening of shortages through 2025,” the group said in a statement.

“The United States already was struggling with a critical physician shortage and the problem will only be exacerbated as 32 million Americans acquire health care coverage, and an additional 36 million people enter Medicare.”

To their credit, they are not positioning this as a criticism of the increase in access to healthcare, rather as an indication of the need for more trained physicians. But Reuters of course found a way to point blame (“Health reform to worsen doctor shortage”), and already the wingnut blogs are piling on.

Hot Air:

the [healthcare reform] bill will have a big impact on an expected shortage of physicians over the next few years — by amplifying it . . . The artificial cap on reimbursements — a form of price-fixing — will be the main culprit.

Note of course that the actual press release explicitly cites the relative projected growth of the patient and physician populations – a straightforward mathematical ratio – and says nothing at all about reimbursement caps; it also cites both Medicare eligibility – a demographic phenomenon – and the health bill as the sources of that growth. (And, of course, the bill does not specify a global cap on reimbursments, contractual provider payment maximums are not “price fixing”, and the for-profit insurance industry universally specifies maximum reimbursements in its contracts already. But mere conceptual confusion and knee-jerk wrongheadedness are only the ordinary level of stupidity at that blog. And Conservative Reading Comprehension Disorder, of course, rages on.)

This projected shift in provider/patient ratios is an obvious – and remediable – result of providing more access to healthcare to tens of millions of people who now have little or none. Of course there’s going to be more demand for doctors if a bunch of people who don’t have access to one suddenly have a means of getting access. What is striking is that the right sees this as a reason not to provide that access.

The implicit – and at times explicit – conclusion drawn from the fact that more patients means a need for more doctors is that we should not provide access for more patients. The right’s actual, quite literal, reaction to the possibility that they might have to wait longer to see their doctors is to keep other people from seeing doctors, reducing the size of the patient pool rather than increasing the size of the provider pool, literally demanding that others should suffer for the right’s personal convenience. It staggers me that these nasty creeps are even listened to, let alone taken in any way seriously, on healthcare or any subject that touches people’s vital needs.

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