Today the Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. will likely face a doctor shortage in coming years. Now who could have ever predicted that this would happen? Oh, that’s right, I DID! And frankly, I believe this article vastly underestimates the problem. The heaviest users of medical services are not those with their own insurance – no, having paid handsomely for it, they know better than to abuse it. Instead it’s those who have been granted “free” health care by the state, and we’ve just added 17 million people to that category, and if the administration gets its way with amnesty in the coming months another 12-17 million.
On top of that, there is a high probability of many current doctors leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with the new system. My primary care doctor tells me he’s closed to new patients for the specific reason that he refuses to take on more medicare patients and the mountains of paperwork and pitiful compensation they bring with them. If you don’t believe the system underpays, just ask Walgreens who recently announced they will no longer fill medicaid prescriptions in the state of Washington because it’s a “money losing proposition”! At the behest of the corporately owned hospitals who don’t like competition, the bill also bans doctor-owned hospitals which will result in the immediate cancellation of 60 planned new hospitals across the country and what would have been hundreds more in the future.
But, allow me to go a step further and make a new prediction, one which will take years to unfortunately come to fruition and then decades (if ever) to reverse. I shouldn’t really call it a prediction as it’s simple supply and demand logic; Adam Smith could have predicted this 250 years ago. What happens when there is a shortage of a product – in this case, doctors? The price goes up. But, what happens when an all-knowing (at least they think they’re all-knowing) government holds prices down while the demand is going up? Quality goes down, way down!
In the coming decade, medical schools will be under immense pressure to fill this void of doctors. Students who would not have been admitted in the past will likely get in, and those who would have washed out may very well be passed on. Once in the field, these sub-standard doctors will be without the free-market incentive of do the best work, make the most money. They will be seeing too many patients, too infrequently while being pressured by the government to keep costs down. That should work out well…