Among the many topics of debate surrounding healthcare, action on the predictions on physician shortages has started to gather momentum.
This past spring, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that the United States will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032. Projected shortages include primary care (between 22,100 and 55,200) and specialty care (between 24,800 and 65,800).
A major factor impacting these numbers is the simple dynamic of supply and demand—the demand of a growing aging population in need of more services, an increase in the number of people having access to healthcare, and a supply of physicians unable to keep up with the demand. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s population is estimated to increase by more than 10 percent by 2032, with those over age 65 increasing by 48 percent. And while that 48 percent will be part of the increase in demand for health services, it will also contribute to the shortage since one-third of all currently active doctors will themselves be older than 65 in the next decade—and ready to retire. With these predictions of physician shortages now available, elected officials are beginning to seek solutions.
In a multi-prong approach, California and its federally elected representatives are taking steps to address predicted physician shortages and their causes, especially when they affect vulnerable populations in the agricultural and rural regions of the state.
One approach has been to help provide incentives in by appropriating $220 million in Prop. 56 (tobacco tax) funds in the 2018 state budget and an additional $120 million in the 2019 May revise of the state budget. In support of these incentives, California has created the CalHealthCares loan repayment program for practicing physicians and residents to use toward student loan forgiveness. Eligible physicians and dentists may apply for up to $300,000 in loan repayments.
Another program funded by Prop. 56 is the CalMedForce which awarded $38 million in its inaugural 2019 cycle and another $40 million in summer 2020 for graduate medical education programs in California. The funding represents over 300 residency slots in programs across the state. A third cycle of funding is expected by the end of 2019.
At the federal level, a coalition of California and Texas House Representatives, primarily from rural districts, introduced in September the Stopping Doctor Shortages Act. The bill aims to close a loophole in federal regulations that inadvertently prevent doctors in California and Texas working for non-profits from qualifying for federal loan forgiveness. The bill is endorsed by the both the California Medical Association (CMA) and Texas Medical Association. CMA President David H. Aizuss, MD, commented: “This bipartisan, technical fix . . . could help California retain or attract as many as 10,000 physicians over the next decade to address critical physician shortages in our state.”
With myriad challenges facing healthcare, state and federal efforts to support those who choose careers as physicians through loan forgiveness can only help with growing patient needs.
AAMC Physician Shortage Report
Gabriela Villanueva is CAP’s Public Affairs Analyst. Questions or comments related to this article should be directed to gvillanueva@CAPphysicians.com.