Will overhaul lead to doctor shortage?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Mar 25, 2010

Will overhaul lead to doctor shortage?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Mar 25, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: So here’s an interesting coincidence. The same day President Obama signed the health care bill — that’d be Tuesday — the medical school at Texas Tech University said it’s going to start offering a three-year program for people who want to be primary-care doctors. Most medical schools, of course, are four years.

Texas Tech is reacting to long-standing predictions that we’re facing a big shortage of MDs and guesses that that shortage’s only going to get worse as health care reform kicks in and millions of new patients try to find doctors. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer has more.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: We’ll need an estimated 13,000 new primary care doctors to treat the millions of new patients who will be insured by 2014 when health care reforms kicks in. So brace yourself.

LORI HEIM: There will be patients who get an insurance card, but they may well find that the practices in their area are closed to new patients.

Doctor Lori Heim is president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

HEIM: People will be getting care that’s delayed or forgoing care until it’s more costly.

After Massachusetts overhauled its health care system in 2006, requiring almost everyone to get insurance, the number of doctors accepting new patients dropped 10 percent. So, more patients saw nurse practitioners. And patients started having group doctor appointments. Yep, you get to talk about your gall bladder in front of total strangers.

Erica Drazen says it’s not as bad as it sounds. She’s a health policy analyst at Computer Sciences Corporation just outside Boston. She’s talked to patients who’ve had group appointments.

ERICA DRAZEN: So you listen to other patients problems. You can get tips from other patients. Now clearly if they’re going to do a physical exam, they go off in a private room to do that.

That’s a relief. The health care overhaul does attempt to alleviate the doctor shortage. There’s more funding to train new family doctors and nurse practitioners.

And all the bickering in Congress about health care reform had an unintended benefit. The number of medical students going into family medicine increased by about 9 percent this year.

Dr. Atul Grover is a lobbyist for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

ATUL GROVER: All the discussion around the value of primary care that has gone on has really helped revitalize people’s career interest in primary care.

Let’s hope they don’t change their minds.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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