Over the weekend a New York Times profile of my (and Ashton’s) hometown of Riverside, California sounded the alarm over the crisis-level shortfalls of doctors practicing in America. For a publication as married to do-gooder liberalism as the Times, it’s tone was surprisingly fatalistic:
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed. And that number will more than double by 2025, as the expansion of insurance coverage and the aging of baby boomers drive up demand for care. Even without the health care law, the shortfall of doctors in 2025 would still exceed 100,000.
Health experts, including many who support the law, say there is little that the government or the medical profession will be able to do to close the gap by 2014, when the law begins extending coverage to about 30 million Americans. It typically takes a decade to train a doctor.
Well, there is at least one thing the feds could do: get out of the way. A helpful explainer from the Heartland Institute shows how badly government distorts the market for doctors:
[The Heritage Foundation's Kathryn] Nix points out that when Congress passed the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, it included a cap on the number of residency positions Medicare is allowed to fund. The step wasn’t controversial at the time, and in fact it had the support of multiple organizations, since concerns abounded at the time that the United States had an oversupply of physicians.
Since then, the number of residency positions funded by Medicare has remained unchanged, capped at 1996 levels despite exploding population growth and increased demand. Groups such as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have since changed positions and now support increasing the 1996 cap or eliminating it entirely.
“The biggest concern is that the demand is going up as the population ages,” Nix continued. We’re going to have more people on Medicare, elderly who need more medical attention. The new health care law will exacerbate the problem, first of all by increasing and subsidizing demand, but several of the provisions of the new law will discourage physicians from staying in the profession and will discourage young people from joining it.”
An utterly avoidable human tragedy, bred by ignorance. Who could’ve anticipated that capping supply would lead to shortages? Anyone who’s ever cracked a basic economics textbook, that’s who. We can argue over the proper methods for restructuring Medicare, but it should be obvious that “restrict the number of doctors and leave everything else the same” isn’t going to cut it.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As has been widely noted, Obamacare’s virtually indestructible Independent Payment Advisory Board has the potential to morph into precisely the kind of “death panel” Sarah Palin warned about.
Bureaucratic incompetence has long been a bugbear of conservatives. But the day is soon arriving when the bean counters will go from costing money to costing lives.