Health care issues: Shortage of doctors

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2009 9:32 AM

A look at key issues in the health care debate:

THE ISSUE: Will there be enough doctors to provide care to millions of previously uninsured patients if health overhaul is passed?

THE POLITICS: With primary care doctors in limited supply, Republicans opposed to sweeping reform say the health care system would be overwhelmed if more than 30 million uninsured Americans are given coverage. As is, the American Academy of Family Physicians is predicting a shortage of 40,000 primary care doctors by 2020, with medical schools graduating only half the number needed to meet demand. Democrats and the Obama administration do not dispute looming shortages, now seen in many poor and rural areas, that could lead to longer waits and more emergency-room visits. But they argue that health care legislation would address those problems.

WHAT IT MEANS: Due to increasing medical demands from aging baby boomers, the United States faces a dangerous shortage of primary care doctors whether sweeping reform is passed or not. Several doctors' groups are backing the overhaul legislation, citing in part provisions to expand the workforce. For example, the House bill would add funding, loan repayment and training grant programs designed to promote use of specialized nurses, encourage doctors to work in underserved areas and entice new students into primary care. Existing medical schools also have begun to increase enrollment, while new schools are under development from El Paso in West Texas to Kalamazoo in western Michigan. Still, it remains to be seen whether the efforts will be far and fast enough, given the long-standing attraction of medical specialties which offer students higher salaries and more prestige.

_ Hope Yen