Is the physician shortage a myth?

Even though medical school applications are at an all-time high, according to the Association of the American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the added doctors may not be able to meet demand in the coming years--that's according to many economists who fear health reform will be disastrous to the supply-and-demand of healthcare.

"With training ranging from six to 10 years after college, quickly producing more physicians is not an option," practicing radiologist Douglas Burnette, Jr., wrote in a Diagnostic Imaging article yesterday. "Now enter the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with greatly expanded access to routine healthcare. You don't have to be a genius to see that the math doesn't work."

According to AAMC, first-time medical school applicants increased 2.6 percent from the previous year to 32,654 students, and total applicants rose 2.8 percent to 43,919 applicants. But come 2014, health reform is expected to bring in more than 30 million newly insured individuals into the system.

Even with more medical school candidates applying, it doesn't mean they will all get in to become students. Congress has capped Medicare residency slots since 1997. Couple the residency limit with the anticipated time lag of when students become practicing doctors, the physician shortage could reach 130,000 by 2025, Bloomberg reported.

Nevertheless, some remain skeptical if health reform will worsen the physician shortage--and if one even exists, as Princeton economics professor Uwe E. Reinhardt wrote in The New York Times today.

"I was unpersuaded in part because the newly insured are likely to present only a marginal added demand for physician services." Reinhardt added that physicians can create their own demand.

For more information:
- read the Diagnostic Imaging article (registration required)
- read the Bloomberg article
- here's the NYT article

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