op-ed

Will physicians join the Endangered Species List?

Jason Fodeman Physician
Font Size:

When President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the emphasis may have been on the short-nose sucker fish or the golden-cheeked warbler, but it is doubtful anyone contemplated the “Humanis doctoris.”

Despite efforts to open new medical schools and increase the size of existing medical school classes, a severe physician shortage is imminent. In 2005 the Council on Graduate Medical Education concluded that even though the absolute number of physicians will expand between 2000 and 2020, the demand for physicians will grow at a relatively faster rate than physician supply. In November 2008 the Association of American Medical Colleges studied the supply of doctors and predicted a shortage of 125,000 physicians by 2025. While these shortages are most pronounced in primary care, they cover the gamut of medical and surgical subspecialties. There simply are not enough doctors in the pipeline. Unfortunately, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will only exacerbate this trend, resulting in increased waiting times for appointments and ultimately rationing of care.

ObamaCare presumably puts more patients into the health care system. Extra doctors will be needed to treat these new patients. As the demand for doctors peaks, ObamaCare does little to increase the supply of providers and most likely will decrease it. A September 2009 IBD/TIPP Poll revealed that 45% of practicing physicians would consider leaving their practice or retiring prematurely if reform passed. A more recent Medicus physician survey reached a similar conclusion.

ObamaCare will bring the physician work force to disastrous new lows. No doubt they may become the next endangered species, at least in their current form: the brightest, best educated, best trained, and most dedicated. Despite an environment that has become increasingly more hostile since Medicare’s implementation in 1965, this resourceful species has miraculously managed to teeter on. Physicians deserve credit for their resilience in this litigious and bureaucratic habitat dominated by predatory regulators and third-party administrators. All things considered, it is amazing they have lasted this long. It is important to remember that despite their ability to heal and save lives, as mere mortals physicians can only put up with so much.

ObamaCare could very well be the proverbial last straw. The new legislation is terrible for physicians. It transfers more control of health care decision-making from discussions between doctor and patient to faceless unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington, DC. It creates approximately 159 new committees, agencies, and bureaucracies with virtually unlimited power to dictate physician activity. For doctors this will translate into more paperwork, less autonomy, and declining job satisfaction. Doctors will have to waste more time and money complying with regulations. Consequently they will have less time to spend with their patients and will need to see more patents in less time to maintain the same standard of living. Sick people and the quality of care will suffer the most.

ObamaCare has the potential to put physicians on a one-way path to extinction. Don’t believe it? Then whatever happened to tyrannosaurus rex?

Jason D. Fodeman, M.D., is an internal-medicine resident at the University of Connecticut and a former graduate health-policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation.