[Guest post by DRJ]
The AP has discovered that adding 30-50 million uninsured to the health care roles means America will need more doctors:
“Among the many hurdles facing President Barack Obama’s plan to revamp the nation’s health care system is a shortage of primary care physicians – those legions of overworked doctors who provide the front line of medical care for both the sick and those hoping to stay healthy.
As Massachusetts’ experience shows, extending health care to 50 million uninsured Americans will only further stress the system and could force many of those newly insured back into costly emergency rooms for routine care if they can’t find a primary care doctor, health care observers said.
To keep up with the demand for primary care doctors, the country will need to add another 40,000 to the existing 100,000 doctors over the next decade or face a soaring backlog, according to Dr. Ted Epperly, president of the Kansas-based American Academy of Family Physicians.
“It’s like giving everyone free bus passes, but there are only two buses,” he said.”
There are a range of ideas to solve the anticipated primary care shortage, including financial incentives that encourage medical students to enter the primary care field, regulations that equalize payments to primary care doctors and specialists like brain surgeons and cardiologists, and a team approach that allows nurse practitioners and health educators to provide basic care and counseling with primary care physicians. The latter option is already available in many parts of the country at Walmart, CVS Caremark, and Walgreens Pharmacies, as well as in many local clinics.
The linked article also quotes a medical student who plans to practice in pediatric primary care because “When I wrote on my medical school application that I wanted to help people, I really meant it.” I see this same attitude in law — an elitist attitude that you aren’t really helping people unless you’re helping the “right” people. Specialists help people, too. The neonatologist who saves the lives of sick and premature infants is helping the right people. So is the cardiologist who helps heart attack and stroke victims, and the brain surgeon who helps people with tumors and traumatic brain injuries. Preventive care won’t keep people from needing specialists — Ted Kennedy is a good example of that.
I want people to have preventive care and I want enough health care practitioners to provide it. To help make that happen, government should ease regulations and barriers to make it easier for nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to work in the primary care field. But you don’t need sweeping health care reform to do that.