At this point we have no idea how many people will become newly insured under ObamaCare. For the first year out, the number of people with insurance may actually go down! But the administration's goal is to insure an additional 30 million people and eventually a lot of those people will acquire health plans. When they do, the economic studies predict that they will try to double their use of the health care system.
Adding to this increased demand will be new mandated benefits. The administration never seems to tire of reminding seniors that they are entitled to a free annual checkup. Then there are new benefits for women, including free contraceptives. And all of us will be entitled to a long list of preventive services — with no deductible or copayment.
But the health care system can't possibly deliver on all these promises. The original ObamaCare bill actually had a line item for increased doctor training. But this provision was zeroed out before passage, probably to keep down the cost of health reform. The result will be increased rationing by waiting.
Take preventive care. The health reform law says that health insurance must cover the tests and procedures recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. What would that involve? In the American Journal of Public Health, scholars at Duke University calculated that arranging for and counseling patients about all those screenings would require 1,773 hours of the average primary care physician's time each year, or 7.4 hours per working day.
And all of this time is time spent searching for problems and talking about the search. If the screenings turn up a real problem, there will have to be more testing and more counseling. Bottom line: To meet the promise of free preventive care nationwide, every family doctor in America would have to work full-time delivering it, leaving no time for all the other things they need to do.
When demand exceeds supply in a normal market, the price rises until it reaches a market-clearing level. But in this country, as in other developed nations, Americans do not primarily pay for care with their own money. They pay with time.