NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 6, 2009

None of the health care reform proposals advancing in Congress addresses a fundamental problem that will soon face this country: a critical shortage of doctors, says Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital.  There were reform ideas put forward in Congress that would have addressed this problem.  Most notably, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have proposed training an additional 4,000 new physicians to add to the 25,000 entering the profession each year.  But their proposals haven't made it into the bills on which congressional leaders hope to vote.

If the doctor shortage is not addressed and health care reform is signed into law, millions of Americans will likely find themselves able to obtain insurance for the first time -- but may be unable to find a doctor without a long delay.  Why?  Because expanding the number of insured patients but not the number of doctors will only increase the demand for services that already must meet the demands of an aging population.  We must make sure there are enough health professionals to meet those new demands, says Dr. Pardes.

  • Even in the absence of health care reform, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the United States will face a shortage of at least 125,000 physicians by 2025.
  • We have about 700,000 active physicians today.
  • One factor driving this shortage is that the baby-boomer generation is getting older and will require more care.
  • By 2025 the number of people over 65 will have increased by about 75 percent of what it is today -- to 64 million from 37 million today.

Doctors are also aging, says Dr. Pardes:

  • By 2020, as many as one-third of the physicians currently practicing will likely retire.
  • If health care reform adds millions of people to the health care market, the shortage of doctors will be even greater than it is projected to be now.

It is important to note that the shortage the country will soon face isn't just of primary care physicians.  It is true that there aren't enough primary care doctors and nurse practitioners.  But it is also true that we need more cardiologists, neurologists, general surgeons, pediatric subspecialists, urologists and other highly trained specialists, says Dr. Pardes.

Source: Herbert Pardes, "The Coming Shortage of Doctors," Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2009.

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