By Kurt Mosley, VP of Strategic Alliances, Merritt Hawkins
Everybody knows (well, almost everybody) that the United States is in the midst of a physician shortage. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has projected a shortage of over 150,000 physicians by 2025 – a projection that does not include the probable rise in demand for medical services caused by 32 million people newly insured through health reform. In addition, over 20 medical specialty societies and 20 states have released reports projecting physician shortages in their areas.
The doctor shortage, at least in primary care, was recognized by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, which has or will initiate various steps to increase the supply of doctors. One provision of the PPA will redistribute residency slots from hospitals that are not using them to hospitals that will use them, mostly to train primary care physicians. This step is projected to increase the number of physicians coming out of training by some 300 a year.
The problem is, according to estimates by the AAMC, we need many more than that. The AAMC has called for a 30% increase in the number of U.S. medical school graduates, and, in fact, the number of medical students has significantly increased in the last several years. However, due largely to the cap Congress placed on spending on Graduate Medical Education (GME) in 1997, the number of physicians completing their training each year is increasing at a much slower rate. To address the doctor shortage, residency programs would have to produce several thousand final-year residents annually, not several hundred.
So it is particularly unwelcome news that The Super Committee is moving quickly to recommend to Congress an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23. In initial public disclosures, GME funding has become a serious target (it has been suggested that $1 billion in federal funding for GME be cut). These cuts could have a devastating effect on the nation’s ability to train the physicians we need, particularly in light of health reform’s goal to provide access to more patients. Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) reports more information on these cuts.
It is my hope that the GME cuts will not go through, and that Congress, will instead lift the cap on federally funded medical training. You can access more information about physician shortage here.
How do you feel about the proposed cap on GME spending?
Kurt Mosley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org