KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Family Doctors: An Endangered Breed

"As more medical students shun primary care for higher-paid specialties, experts warn of a severe imbalance that could cripple the nation's health care system," CNN Money reports. Luis Manriquez, a first-year student at the University of Washington School of Medicine wants to become a family doctor, an increasingly rare ambition. He will "probably make one-fourth the salary of a specialist while trying to pay down $140,000 on average in medical school debt." Manriquez says that "primary care physicians are considered to not do as much as specialists. … People have told me that generalists are less respected as doctors."

"In the last 10 years, 90% of medical school graduates have opted to enter higher-paid sub-specialties like orthopedic surgery, radiology and dermatology. Only 10% have chosen primary care, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). This trend has fueled a growing shortage of primary care doctors in the United States. " Dr. Ted Epperly, president of AAFP, "estimates that the health care system will be 40,000 doctors short of where it needs to be in the primary care arena by 2020 to support the demand for medical care. … However, his more immediate worry is what will happen to this demand-supply imbalance if President Obama's health care reform initiative is successful and 46 million more Americans get medical coverage." He says it "will be total chaos."

"The Obama administration's health reform proposal contains measures to correct the most obvious challenges. These include reducing medical school debt through more funding for programs such as the National Health Service Corps, revising Medicare reimbursement rates to physicians, and expanding the role of community health centers to deal with doctor shortages." Epperly says other solutions include increasing the use of information technology and rewarding doctors for quality instead of quantity (Kavilanz, 7/16).

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