By 2014, President Obama’s landmark health law is expected to extend coverage to more than 300,000 people in California’s Inland Empire. But that new coverage might not actually translate to increased care. Why? Because there aren’t enough doctors to go around.
In California, Riverside and San Bernardino counties already suffer from the worst doctor shortage in the state. With the expansion of Medicaid, those few doctors will be stretched even further. And coverage without doctors might equate to no care at all.
Similar problems are expected to occur in the Mississippi Delta, Detroit, and parts of Phoenix. An estimate by the Association of American Medical Colleges posits that the U.S. will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed in 2015.
Though medical school enrollment is increasing, it can’t keep up with the pace of the expanding population. And those that do make it through the 10 years of medical training required might make the choice to become specialists instead of primary care doctors, as specialists are often paid twice as much.
As baby boomers get older, they will put increasing amounts of pressure on the doctor shortage as they become part of the growing number of elderly patients.
Provisions within the health care law include money for the training of primary health care doctors and rewards if they work in underserved communities. But these incentives are but a drop in the bucket.
So what can California do to produce more doctors, especially primary care physicians? How do we get more of them to practice in underserved areas? What will be the fallout if we fail to enact real solutions?
Dr. Richard Olds, Dean of the new medical school at University of California, Riverside
Dr. James Hay, President, California Medical Association
Dr. Temetry Lindsey, CEO/President, Inland Behavioral and Health Services, Inc.