The American Academy of Family Physicians predicts there will be 40,000 fewer family care physicians in 10 years, and 160,000 fewer by 2025. One proposed solution to the growing shortage is to increase residency positions for family doctors at teaching hospitals.
To make matters worse, doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments in 2010. An internist quoted in CNN Money said if the cut went through, it would exceed his profits, and he’d have to lay off employees to stay in business. But help is on the way. Last week, the House voted to delay the 21 percent cut, which was scheduled to take effect in January 2010. The vote delays the cut until March.
While this may be good news for doctors, some lawmakers are cynical. “This is nothing more than a repayment to the American Medical Association for endorsing the larger health care bill that was on the floor several weeks ago,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, told the Associated Press.
Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer said, “This is not a question of payoff to anybody. It’s the right thing to do.”
There’s no guarantee the Senate will pass a similar measure. In October, the Senate voted against reducing the physicians payment cut because of costs. The cut is scheduled to take effect in January.
Even if doctors manage to avoid Medicare reimbursement cuts, the health care overhaul would exacerbate the growing shortage of primary care physicians. If health care reform becomes law, millions of uninsured Americans will receive coverage, but the law wouldn’t produce more family and primary care doctors to cover those Americans.