Even before the ACA’s launch in 2013, many physicians—seeing the changes in their profession that lay ahead—had begun talking their children out of going to medical school. After the launch, compensation fell, while nothing in the ACA stopped lawsuits and malpractice premiums from rising. Doctors must now see many more patients each day to meet expenses, all while dealing with the mountains of paperwork mandated by the health-care law.
The forecast shortage of doctors has become a real problem. It started in 2014 when the ACA cut $716 billion from Medicare to accommodate 30 million newly “insured” people through an expansion of Medicaid. More important, the predicted shortage of 42,000 primary-care physicians and that of specialists (such as heart surgeons) was vastly underestimated. It didn’t take into account the ACA’s effect on doctors retiring early, refusing new patients or going into concierge medicine. These estimates also ignored the millions of immigrants who would be seeking a physician after having been granted legal status.
It is surprising that the doctor shortage was not better anticipated: After all, when Massachusetts mandated health insurance in 2006, the wait to see a physician in some specialties increased considerably, the shortage of primary-care physicians escalated and more doctors stopped accepting new patients. In 2013, the Massachusetts Medical Society noted waiting times from 50 days to 128 days in some areas for new patients to see an internist, for instance.