Federal cuts could worsen doctor shortage

August 28, 2013 4:44:46 PM PDT
There are not enough doctors to take care of Americans. But some say cuts in the federal budget could make that worse.

President Obama's 2014 fiscal year budget proposal will cut funds to train medical residents by $11 billion over the next ten years.

Medical students are now fighting back, forming a group called "America Deserves Doctors," and asking the public to help be signing a petition to go to Congress.

They have also launched a social media campaign, on Twitter at #saveGME and Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmericaDeservesDoctors.

The American Medical Association (AMA), has named this week "Save GME Action Week," in support of the movement.

Last year the Senate reported a physician shortage of 16,000 doctors. Experts from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), which represents medical schools and teaching hospitals, predict that shortage will balloon to almost 90,000 by 2020.

Physician training consists of four years of medical school, followed the clinical training phase in an accredited residency program, which is typically between 3-7 years depending on the specialty. Residency is required for doctors to get licensed to practice medicine.

Federal funds from the Medicare program are the main source of funds for residency training. Medicare also helps to o ffset the higher cost of the more complex patients that teaching hospitals care for.

Implementing the healthcare reform law could mean another 32 million Americans looking for doctors.

In addition, the aging of the Baby Boomer generation will mean more demands for services, The physician population is aging as well, and it is estimated that 1 in 3 physicians retire in the next decade.

There are new medical schools, and existing ones have increased the number of students they train each year.

However, experts estimate that as early as 2015, there will not be enough residency position for the rising number of students.

Residents play a major role in day-today care in hospitals, treating an estimated 1of every 5 patients in hospitals, and they handle 40% of charity care patients. Without residents, some estimate this care would cost taxpayers an additional $8.4 billion each year.

Medical colleges say the cuts disproportionately target teaching hospitals, which do the vast majority of trauma care, clinical research, and specialized care. Reimbursements for specialty care are often poor, say the colleges. Cutting funds for residents would increase that financial pressure.

Critics say these funding cuts may also affect training for nurses and other health professionals at teaching hospitals. They worry it may also lead to a direct job loss of tens of thousands of people employed by teaching institutions.

That could have an impact in rural and underserved communities, where teaching hospitals often operate outreach programs.

The American Medical Association is backing legislation that would require the federal government to create 15,000 more residency positions over a period of 10 years and would also halt these funding cuts.

This report prepared with assistance from Amy Ondeyka, M.D.


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