States assess health law's impact on physician shortages

The consensus generally indicates that health reform will exacerbate current or looming physician shortages across the country, particularly in primary care. Long term, the nation may see a shortage of about 160,000 physicians by 2025, reports the American Medical News.

Although the health law includes provisions to get more medical students enrolled, states worry they may not be able to beat the clock.

Mississippi, already suffering the worst doctor shortage in the country, will have an additional 500,000 insured patients in 2014 when the individual health insurance mandate takes effect. Although the University of Mississippi Medical Center--the state's only medical school, which already produces half of its physicians--has been working to increase enrollment, lean budgets likely will thwart their efforts for at least the next two years, the school's dean told the Clarion Ledger.

In March, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine in Lubbock announced a three-year medical degree family medicine track. Students will compete for spots in the Liaison Committee on Medical Education-approved program. If accepted, their medical school tuition will be cut in half, through the absence of a fourth year and forgiveness of the first year's tuition, said the school's dean, Steven Berk, MD. But medical schools alone cannot resolve the primary care shortage, Berk added. "There have to be several different approaches. This is one of them."

Another approach, for example, may mean physicians experimenting with delegating more responsibility to nonphysician practitioners, said Richard "Buz" Cooper, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and co-chair of the Council on Physician and Nurse Supply. "We are going to have a lot more insured people, and it isn't only that they'll be getting routine services," Cooper said. "These people aren't routine. They have a lifelong reservoir of poor health."

For more information:
- read this Clarion Ledger piece
- read this amednews article