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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Republican hopeful Romney misses elephant in room on healthcare reform

While proposing some sound strategies for healthcare reform in a USA Today commentary, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney misses the elephant in the room: Looming physician shortages portend the loss of access for millions of  patients.
Currently, 65 million people lack adequate access to primary care physicians.[1] Fifty medical studies have projected critical shortages of physicians.[2] The American Association of Medical Colleges concludes, “If physician supply and use patterns stay the same, the United States will experience a shortage of 124,000 full-time physicians by 2025.”[3]
Millions of patients, notably the poor and those in medically underserved regions, depend for care on religious healthcare institutions and professionals whose faith and conscience compel their service. Faith-based health care depends on protections against discrimination for upholding life-affirming ethical standards.
Absent conscience protection, nine of ten faith-based physicians say they would be forced to leave medicine.[4] Yet the Obama administration eviscerated the only federal regulation that protected the exercise of conscience in health care, and partisans in the last Congress shot down amendments to protect conscience in Obamacare.
Cost reduction, malpractice reform and market competition remain key to healthcare transformation. Yet any successful healthcare policy must first protect patient access, which hinges on preserving physicians' freedom to care for patients according to conscience and ethical standards.
References:

[1]  “Shortage Designation: HPSAs, MUAs & MUPs,” HRSA web site http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/shortage/
[2] “Recent Studies and Reports on Physician Shortages in the U.S.,” Association of American Medical Colleges, April 2009. http://www.aamc.org/workforce/stateandspecialty/recentworkforcestudies.pdf
[3]  “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections Through 2025,” AAMC report, October 2008. https://services.aamc.org/publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=Product.displayForm&prd_id=244

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