Welcome to the latest installment of Perspectives. Since we started this series 18 months ago, we’ve examined a number of issues that impact the future of health care. But one topic we have not yet addressed is the severe shortage of physicians in this country.
About 60 million Americans are affected by the shortage in that they live in one of 3,000 U.S. communities designated as medically underserved, meaning there are not enough doctors to meet the needs of the local population. Our state has a higher rate of physicians than most, but even still, there are 147 communities right here in Washington that carry the medically underserved designation.
The physician shortage dates back, largely, to the mid-1990s when experts predicted the country was headed for a surplus of physicians. As a result, medical schools froze enrollment and began graduating fewer and fewer doctors.
The shortage has been exacerbated by aging baby boomers, who require more medical attention as they grow older. And now that health-care reform has passed and 30 million more Americans will have access to health insurance, the demand for doctors will continue to outpace the supply – by a large margin.
Addressing the shortage