New health law and aging baby boomers’ anticipated strain on the system is about to make chronic doctor shortage worse

Kentucky’s persistent physician shortage is hardly new. Almost a century ago, the Frontier Nursing Service came to Hyden on the presumption that doctors wouldn’t. A report from the Health Resources and Services Administration in 2005 found that 81 of 120 of the commonwealth’s counties were officially health professional shortage areas. Now comes news that areas in the United States with growing and dense urban populations are feeling the considerable pinch of also not having enough doctors to provide care.

New York Times reporters Annie Lowrey and Robert Pear report that with the expansion of insurance coverage and aging baby boomers driving up demand, we shouldn’t expect the shortage to get better anywhere before it gets worse everywhere. (NYT chart)

“The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed. That number will more than double by 2025,” report Lowrey and Pear. “Even without the health care law, the shortfall of doctors in 2025 would still exceed 100,000.” In addition, Medicare officials predict their enrollment will surge to 73.2 million in 2025, up 44 percent from 50.7 million this year because of the baby boomer demographic hitting their golden years. “Older Americans require significantly more health care,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the president of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Older individuals are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, requiring more intensive, coordinated care.”

Medical school enrollment is increasing, but not as fast as the population. The number of training positions for medical school graduates is lagging. Younger doctors are on average working fewer hours than their predecessors. And about a third of the country’s doctors are 55 or older, and nearing retirement. (Read more)

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