PCP Shortage Might Thwart Reform

May 13th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

Subjects: ,

In 2006, Massachusetts enacted a law that vastly reduced the number of uninsured Bay State residents. There was one slight problem though. Scads of the newly insured couldn’t find primary care doctors to take care of them.

noroominthewaitingroomWait times for routine office visits have soared in some parts of the state to 100 days and many residents have simply given up trying to find one.

These folks end up seeking care in ERs which is what they did before they were covered.

The problem scares the bejeesus out of officials in the Obama administration, who know that if the Big O has his way and 40-50 million Americans acquire health insurance in the blink of an eye, the same problem will play itself out nationwide.
What to do? Some suggest bumping medical school enrollment which would begin addressing the problem around the time the Big O wraps-up his second term, and that’s assuming any of the new graduates actually enter primary care.

Others recommend increased utilization of nurse practitioners and physician assistants, but last time we checked all these types are already happily employed, and training new ones is associated with lag time problems of its own.

Solutions with a quicker onset of action include expanding RN-staffed retail clinics with leveraged physician oversight, and opening the doors even more widely to foreign medical graduates.

igotanideaSome even suggest overhauling the payment structure for physicians in a way that incents specialists to do some primary care.

Assuming policymakers have the stomach to take on physician payment reform in a way that doesn’t cause system-wide costs to skyrocket, the idea won’t go down well with specialists, regardless.

Listen to Peter Mandell, for example. The spokesman for the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons told the New York Times, “we have no problem with financial incentives for primary care (but) if there’s less money for hip and knee replacements, fewer of them will be done for people who need them.”


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