Doctor Shortage Issue Heats Up With Reform Efforts

The Miami Herald reports: "Some parts of the country already lack an ample supply of general internists, pediatricians and family physicians, forcing patients to drive further or wait longer for care. If a comprehensive health reform bill passes and extends coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, many are asking if there will be enough primary-care doctors to handle the increased demand for medical services." Massachusetts struggled with that shortage when it started to reform its state's health care: "Two years ago, Massachusetts authorized retail clinics for the first time, allowing drugstore chains to pick up some of the slack by offering consumers a place to go to for routine care such as immunizations and ear-infection treatment, he said. The state also started a loan forgiveness program to help offset the debt burden for new medical school graduates who agree to serve as primary-care doctors in underserved areas" (Gerencher, 11/23).

Related KHN story: Health Bills In Congress Won't Fix Doctor Shortage (Galewitz, 10/12)

Meanwhile, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the cost and time spent on insurance dealings: "At Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia, one of the region's largest specialty physician groups, the expensive quest to get paid by dozens of insurance companies begins days before a patient shows up for an appointment and can take weeks or months. It's a quest repeated in doctors' offices and hospitals everywhere, one made more complex and time-consuming by America's hodgepodge of insurers. Each has its own rules and procedures, rules so complex that Cardiology Consultants produced a 100-page how-to manual just for front-desk employees. We all pay for the ensuing bureaucracy through insurance premiums and taxes. And the heart doctors in this practice have had to organize their business around making shortcuts in the labyrinth" (Burling, 11/22).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.