What good is healthcare reform without enough doctors?

There appears to be one significant gap that the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare reform bill doesn't address: The shortage of doctors.

The American Academy of Family Physicians predicts that the shortage of family doctors will soar to 40,000 within the next decade. Worse yet, the overall shortage of doctors is expected to climb to nearly 160,000 by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"I don't see anything in the legislation that will greatly increase the primary care pipeline," said Dr. Russell Robertson, chair of the Council on Graduate Medical Education. 

Besides ensuring access to healthcare, he said increasing the number and proportion of primary care doctors is crucial to lowering healthcare costs.

Currently, the House and Senate overhaul bills offer a 10 percent bonus for primary care doctors over five years, will increase Medicare payment rates and redistribute about 1,000 unfilled residency positions to teaching hospitals that commit to creating more primary care residencies. The recently passed Finance Committee bill gives 15 states priority--predominantly those in the south and west--due to their high proportion of doctor shortages or low percentage of medical residents. Ten of these states have representatives on the Finance Committee.

Still, those measures don't address the main issue, stated Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

"Providing a benefit that you can't deliver the product on will be a real problem," he said. "Without expanding the number of residency slots, you are not increasing the pipeline."

For more on the story:
-read the Kaiser Health News article

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