EDITORIAL: Provide more health care providers

2013-04-18T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Provide more health care providers nwitimes.com
April 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The phrase "serious health care problem" usually refers to cancer, heart disease and other disorders. There's another looming health care problem that must not be ignored by policymakers, however.

The United States is not generating enough new doctors to meet anticipated demand.

Already, there are areas in Northwest Indiana that don't have enough doctors.

"Gary, East Chicago and Hammond are designated as under-serviced for primary care," said Dr. Alex Stemer, president of Franciscan Medical Specialists and vice president of strategic planning for Franciscan Alliance Northern Indiana Region.

The Association of American Medical Colleges projects the United States will be short more than 90,000 physicians by 2020 and more than 130,000 by 2025. Nearly one-third of physicians are expected to retire in the next decade.

This could have a significant impact on public policy regarding health care.

The Indiana University School of Medicine is the second largest in the nation and, because of its expansion, on track to become the largest. But even that will not be enough to meet anticipated demand for new doctors unless something changes.

The Affordable Care Act -- which created what has become universally known as Obamacare -- expands health care coverage to more Americans. That adds even more pressure to ensure there are more health care professionals in the United States.

The projected doctor shortage must prompt immediate attention by Congress and, especially, states to see that more spots for future doctors are created in the nation's medical schools. That requires adding faculty and other resources to make this happen.

Also, expand training opportunities for physican's assistants, nurse practitioners and others, and look at who is allowed to treat patients for what. Part of the solution might be for doctors to oversee others providing direct care for less difficult cases and having doctors serve patients whose needs are more complex.

The looming shortage of doctors is an issue that must not continue to be ignored. The Affordable Care Act, by bringing health care to more Americans, and simple demographics -- a growing population and the percentage of doctors nearing retirement age -- require this attention now.

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