Congress should pass bill to overcome physician shortage

Ketchikan Daily News
http://www.alaskajournal.com

The diagnosis is that the nation doesn’t have enough doctors. Ketchikan often is looking to bring one to the community.

The shortage likely will worsen after July 1, when doctors who treat Medicare patients get a 10 percent pay cut.

Couple that with the aging population of doctors – one-third or roughly 250,000 doctors are older than 55 – and the prognosis isn’t good, according to a recent McClatchy Newspapers report. And the nation’s population is rising faster than the number of students entering medical school.

This is of particular concern to rural regions, like Southeast Alaska, which most doctors don’t list as their preferred place to live and work. And, even if they do, a spouse’s career and job opportunities also must be considered when deciding where a family headed by a physician should reside.

Congress must act. The Physician Shortage Elimination Act is before its members. The act is designed to provide scholarships for medical students. Scholarships enable more people to attend medical school, and are important to reduce medical school debt so graduating physicians will be inclined to pursue family medicine instead of the higher-paying specialty fields.

But the act doesn’t address the Medicare pay cut. A 10 percent cut is scheduled for July 1, and an additional 5 percent cut is to occur on Jan. 1.

Congress, in addition to eliminating the Medicare payment reductions, also will consider the Save Medicare Act, which would increase payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients by 1.8 percent in 2009.

If the acts aren’t approved, doctors will be forced to do what any business does when income declines: reduce expenses. No doubt, they also would see fewer Medicare patients.

Publicity about the doctor shortage is creating interest in the medical field, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The number of medical school students has increased since 2003. The number of students entering medical school in 2007 was the largest ever, and new medical schools are expected to open.

But for the immediate future, patients and prospective patients are encouraged to join doctors and other medical professionals in lobbying Congress about the Medicare situation.

It affects everyone; we either receive Medicare benefits now, will someday or know someone who is. During a doctor shortage isn’t the time to reduce Medicare reimbursements to physicians. The cut will hurt physicians, but also will affect patients, staff and the economy of communities across the nation – especially rural ones.

Put yourself in the shoes of a Medicare patient who sees July 1 looming. Then talk to your congressman.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in alaskajournal.com, it was however moved or deleted from their site. We will archive it on Cunningham’s website.

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