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The Low Number Of Doctors


Throughout the health care debate, there have been issues raised about the number of doctors available. Tort reformers love to argue that it’s due to all of the billions of lawsuits. A couple of writers here at the Injuryboard have looked at that issue.

Are Malpractice Claims Running Doctors Out of Business?, Mike Ferrara | December 08, 2009 9:06 PM

Myth #3: Doctors are fleeing., Mike Ferrara | November 12, 2009 9:55 PM

Pennsylvania Doctor Laments there just aren’t enough Medical Malpractice Cases,Steve Lombardi | June 24, 2009 9:36 AM

Do Texas malpractice caps work or is this just more hocus pockus?, Steve Lombardi | May 06, 2009 10:00 AM

Tort Reform Myth: AMA Statistics Refute ‘Doctors Flee’ Myth, Wayne Parsons | May 08, 2009 4:45 AM

I came upon an interesting article in Businessweek on the issue. Interesting that nowhere in the piece do they fault the legal system. Instead it looks like it’s the number of doctors coming out of law school. In 1997, lawmakers placed a cap on the number of medical residencies—hospital training required for all doctors—in order to contain costs under Medicare, which pays for most of these training slots.

Medicare pays about $100,000 a year per residency, at a total cost to the program of about $9 billion, according to a report filed in June by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. The funding was set up in 1965 when the U.S. was about to extend government health coverage to 19 million elderly Americans. As the Medicare rolls grew, to 45 million as of the end of 2008, a ceiling was placed on the number of residencies to control spending.

Congress is now looking at this issue by raising the number of residencies available to students. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), along with Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and other sponsors, submitted an amendment to the health-care reform bill that would add 15,000 residencies at a cost to Medicare of about $1.5 billion.

It’s interesting that one of the concerns is that with the large number of people who will be added to the system when they get coverage under the new health care legislation, there will be the increased need for doctors. Especially with the nearly 17,000 fewer primary-care doctors than needed in inner-city and rural areas, according to the U.S. Health & Human Services Dept.

This is one of those real problems that they should have been dealing with over the last couple of weeks. Interesting to see who is heading the legislation to do that.


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  1. Truckie D says:
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    The number of residencies is only part of the problem — the number of medical school slots is also an issue. At Indiana University last year, there were about 4,000 applicants for 350 spaces in the MD program.

    This lack of training space has led us to the situation where we’re importing doctors — often from countries that can ill afford to be losing trained medical personnel.

    We shouldn’t be importing doctors — we should be exporting them. Not just a trickle, but mass quantities.

    Increasing the number of MD’s in this country should also have the effect of driving down medical costs — the old supply vs. demand — and that would be a good thing.

  2. Mike Bryant says:
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    Very good point, it is so odd that the numbers have dropped. We really should be on the exporting side of the equation. Thanks for reading and commenting.