More doctors needed as Affordable Care Act kicks in

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There are about 48 million uninsured people in the United States, but with insurance through the Affordable Care Act kicking in next year and a couple dozen states expanding who is eligible for Medicaid, that means there will be more patients and, in turn, the need for more doctors.

"I know in this area, a lot of the graduates are now staying in this area, a lot of hospitals are looking to employ new graduates because they realize there is going to be an influx of patients," said Dr. William Schwartz, who has a family practice.

Schwartz said starting in January, many of the 44 million people who are currently uninsured will now be covered through the Affordable Care Act, adding that many of them will want to take advantage of their new coverage. Schwartz said there is already a national shortage of doctors, and the influx of patients will only make this worse.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. is currently down about 20,000 primary care physicians, and that number is expected to get worse as nearly half the nation's physicians are over older than 50 -- at or near retirement age.

The Annals of Family Medicine journal projected the country will need 52,000 more primary care physicians by 2025, mainly due to population growth, and only one in five graduating medical residents plan to go into primary care, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Although the increase in patients will be a burden to primary care offices, Schwartz expects and hopes it will be a gradual transition, allowing offices to adjust as needed.

"I don't think that 30 million-plus people are getting insurance immediately," he said. "I really don't think it's going to be a turnkey operation. From what I see, it will be a gradual process, and as long as it's gradual, I think the physicians and mid-level extenders will be able to accommodate and most likely get additional physicians and mid-level providers as needed."

Like many other experts, Schwartz added that no one really knows yet how the ACA is going to play out because it will be a work in progress. He said he thinks everything will happen in small waves and that it will probably take years for the ACA to really take full affect.

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