During the ObamaCare debate last summer, Investors Business Daily took a survey of practicing physicians to see whether they were contemplating “going Galt” if ObamaCare passed. Their survey showed that 44% of all doctors would consider retiring or pursuing other lines of work in the new system, but critics widely panned the survey as biased and accused IBD of pushing its agenda through rigged polls. Today, IBD claims vindication in a new survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins for the Physicians Foundation — which largely corroborates the earlier poll:
Now a Merritt Hawkins survey of 2,379 doctors for the Physicians Foundation completed in August has vindicated our poll. It found that 40% of doctors said they would “retire, seek a nonclinical job in health care, or seek a job or business unrelated to health care” over the next three years as the overhaul is phased in.
Of those who said they planned to retire, 28% are 55 or younger and nearly half (49%) are 60 or younger.
A larger portion (74%) said they plan to make “one or more significant changes in their practices in the next one to three years, a time when many provisions of health reform will be phased in.”
In addition to retirement, and finding nonclinical jobs elsewhere, those changes include working part time, closing practices to new patients, employment at a hospital, cutting back on the number of patients and switching to a cash or concierge practice.
That would exacerbate an expected physician shortage over the next few years, making the goals of ObamaCare even more difficult to obtain. The main thrust of the program insures more low-income people through Medicaid, an insurance that already has more physicians leaving than joining. The exodus of physicians from the overall market means fewer choices for all consumers, longer wait times, and a degradation in outcomes.
IBD also notes that the Physicians Foundation is a group whose members are taken from the AMA. The AMA supported ObamaCare, and the physicians in this sample could be expected to be more supportive as a result than the overall population of doctors, inside and out of the AMA. IBD’s original survey sample in August 2009 included both, which may be the slight difference between the two polls.
It won’t just be early retirements and practice closings that create problems, either. The same disincentives driving those decisions will also keep new doctors from providing more supply to the market. Those coming out of the medical schools and teaching hospitals will find other jobs, especially those who show enough promise to choose their own ticket. It’s a worrisome scenario for the future of American health care.