NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 29, 2009

Obama administration officials, alarmed at doctor shortages, are looking for ways to increase the supply of physicians to meet the needs of an aging population and millions of uninsured people who would gain coverage under legislation championed by the president, says the New York Times.

To cope with the growing shortage, federal officials are considering several proposals, says the Times:

  • One would increase enrollment in medical schools and residency training programs.
  • Another would encourage greater use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
  • A third would expand the National Health Service Corps, which deploys doctors and nurses in rural areas and poor neighborhoods.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent federal panel, has recommended an increase of up to 10 percent in the payment for many primary care services, including office visits.  And the Association of American Medical Colleges is advocating a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment, which would produce 5,000 additional doctors each year.

But to see what really works, the experience of Massachusetts is instructive, says the Times:

  • Under a far-reaching 2006 law, the state succeeded in reducing the number of uninsured.
  • But many who gained coverage have been struggling to find primary care doctors, and the average waiting time for routine office visits has increased.
  • Now, the ratio of primary care doctors to population is higher in Massachusetts than in other states.

Even though lawmakers can't agree on which proposal is best, they do agree that the shortage of health care professionals is already having serious consequences, says the Times.

Source: Robert Pear, "Shortage of Doctors Proves Obstacle to Obama Goals," New York Times, April 27, 2009.

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