Good Luck Finding a Doctor Under ObamaCare

By Grace-Marie Turner

 “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.”

President Barack Obama,
Speech to the American Medical Association
Chicago, June 15, 2009

Grace-Marie Turner, President, Galen Institute

In truth, prospects are bleak that you will be able to keep your doctor and even bleaker that there will be enough doctors to meet demand under Obamacare.

The health overhaul law expands health insurance to millions more people without significantly increasing the number of physicians or other providers. And Obamacare has exacerbated the physician shortage because many are considering leaving the practice of medicine altogether rather than practice under the dictates of Washington bureaucracies.

An Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP surveyconducted in September of 2009 found that 45 percent of doctors said they “would consider leaving their practice or taking an early retirement” if the health law stands.

More than 800,000 doctors were practicing in 2006, according to government data. Projecting the poll’s finding onto that population means that 360,000 doctors would consider quitting!

And even without a mass exodus, the Association of American Medical Colleges envisions a shortage of about 160,000 doctors by 2025.

The greatest tragedy of Obamacare may be losing prematurely a generation of the most highly-trained, skilled physicians in history to a health overhaul law that the American people did everything they could to stop.

Physicians say they simply won’t practice under Obamacare rules that strip away much of their autonomy, drown them in bureaucracy, and leave them even more exposed to lawsuits.

Health care already is one of the most highly-regulated industries in the country, and doctors and nurses are forced to devote a significant amount of their day to detailed paperwork, adding to their frustration and taking away from time with patients. Reporting requirements will increase significantly under the health overhaul law, and the penalties for those who run afoul of the avalanche of new rules also will increase.

The supply of doctors will dwindle as demand for services reaches an all-time high. Fewer of those in private practice are taking patients on Medicare, and even fewer can afford to see the millions of new patients likely to be enrolled in Medicaid.

By increasing demand for care without a comparable increase in the supply of doctors to treat the additional infusion of patients, the law will exacerbate the current physician shortage, as the New York Times reported on Sunday.

“In the Inland Empire, an economically depressed region in Southern California, President Obama’s health care law is expected to extend insurance coverage to more than 300,000 people by 2014,” the Times reports.

“But coverage will not necessarily translate into care: Local health experts doubt there will be enough doctors to meet the area’s needs. There are not enough now. Other places around the country, including the Mississippi Delta, Detroit and suburban Phoenix, face similar problems,” according to the article.

Shortly after the law was passed, an April 2010 survey of physicians, conducted by Athena Health and Sermo, found that 79 percent of physicians were less optimistic about the future of medicine; 66 percent said they would consider dropping out of government health programs; and 53 percent would consider opting out of insurance altogether.

In August of 2010, The Physicians Foundation completed another major survey of doctors and found that:

  • 67% of doctors had a “somewhat” or “very” negative initial reaction to the new law
  • 74% said they would take steps to change their medical practice over the next one to three years
  • 60% of these doctors said that the new law will force them to close or restrict certain categories of patients: 93% will stop seeing or restrict the number of Medicaid patients they see, and 87% will close or restrict their Medicare practice.
  • Ominously, 89% of physicians said that they believed that the survival of the traditional model of independent private medical practice is threatened. In fact, hospitals already own more than half of medical practices, and that unwelcome trend will be accelerated under the new health law.

Seniors are most at risk because they have the greatest need for medical care. The health law takes more than $700 billion out of Medicare to finance new health-insurance spending, primarily by cutting payments to physicians and Medicare Advantage health plans.

If these cuts were to stand, experts at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services saythe number of hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers facing financial losses under the new law would jump to “roughly” 25 percent in 2030 and 40 percent by 2050. Many Medicare providers will be forced to either stop seeing Medicare patients or go bankrupt entirely.

Doctors are quietly making their plans now to restructure their practices, retire early, get another job, or otherwise protect themselves from the coming regulatory avalanche and payment cuts.

Ultimately, the consequences of the health overhaul law will be passed along to patients through restricted access, long waits for appointments, and rationed care. It’s up to the voters in November to pull the emergency brake, that last chance to stop the Obamacare freight train.

(Grace-Marie Turner is President of the Galen Institute in Alexandria, Virginia.   She will discuss the federal health care law on September 21 at a conference co-sponsored by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Conservative Policy Leadership Institute. This article was originally published by the Galen Institute and National Review Online.)

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