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The Coming Doctor Shortage is Almost Upon Us

The New Year always brings a combined feeling of excitement and impending doom, although for opponents of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, January 1 is D-Day.

Putting aside political motivations for wanting the act to fail, those opposed fear that Obamacare is going to undermine the effectiveness of the U.S. healthcare system which will result in worse care for all involved. Many who believe that Obamacare is a government-takeover of healthcare—it’s not, if anything it’s a government handout to insurance companies—will immediately tell you that it will lead to the rationing of care. This idea is not that far from the truth of a real concern that has existed before the bill was even written: the forthcoming “doctor shortage.”

An article from Forbes published some weeks before President Obama was inaugurated cites the main fault of the forthcoming shortage not with Republicans or Democrats, but with the Association of American Medical Colleges or AAMC. The nonprofit organization of medical educators “foresaw an oversupply of doctors” in the 1980s. The solution was to cap medical school enrollment but the population increase outpaced those restrictions so much so that the AAMC is now saying there will be a shortage of about 91,000 practitioners and specialists by 2020.

According to The New York Times, the Obama administration anticipated this problem, but eventually the suggestions—such as increasing Medicare and Medicaid payments to family doctors over specialists—were mired in the unyielding controversy that has surrounded almost every item that was to be included in the reform. A detailed investigation by nonprofit journalism resource Stateline reveals that “the shortage of providers is worse than the numbers indicate,” because of already-in-place healthcare business practices.

Although, a post last January by The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog,” speculates that the shortage may not be as severe as some think. Citing the increased role that physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and technological advances (e.g. telemedicine) are playing, the 7 million newly-insured (at least that is what Obamacare needs to become financially viable) may be able to weather the storm after all, at least where general practitioners are concerned. The 46,000 specialist shortage is a far more complex problem. 


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