The Looming Reality of ObamaCare’s Doctor Shortage

A new analysis finds that the health insurance plans offered on ObamaCare exchanges offer a choice of 34 percent fewer health care providers, on average, than plans offered on the private market. The report specifies that:

Specifically, the analysis finds that exchange plan networks include 42 percent fewer oncology and cardiology specialists; 32 percent fewer mental health and primary care providers; and 24 percent fewer hospitals. Importantly, care provided by out-of-network providers does not count toward the out-of-pocket limits put in place by the ACA.

This is not surprising. The decline in doctor availability has been a long-foreseen consequence of the Affordable Care Act. The Wall Street Journal reported that the number of doctors per capita is in decline for the first time in two generations, medical school admissions are down 6 percent, and the American Association of Medical Colleges has predicted a shortage of 160,000 physicians by 2025. The only people who didn’t see this coming are the ones who don’t understand that incentives matter.

One of the innumerable mistakes in the Affordable Care Act is the focus on the demand side of medicine, and specifically of insurance coverage. This is several steps removed from the actual problem that needs to be addressed: the cost and availability of health care. These variables fall fundamentally on the supply side of the equation. Lower barriers to entry in the medical profession would increase the number of doctors, and the resulting competition would drive prices down while simultaneously reducing wait times and making it easier to find a doctor.

By forcing more people to buy insurance plans, and regulating the pricing structure of these plans can charge, ObamaCare is driving more people towards doctors, while at the same time reducing doctors’ ability to get paid. Combined with other regulations in the law, like the costly requirement to digitize all medical records, is it any wonder that so many doctors are hanging up their stethoscopes – or failing to pick them up in the first place?

This new study reinforces what we already knew: ObamaCare has always been about insurance, not actual health care. But all the insurance in the world does no good if there are no doctors available to treat you.

The trend towards less choice that ObamaCare is forcing on consumers can only lead to higher prices and a lower quality of care. More long term, the implications of a health care system that disincentives people from becoming doctors is far more dire.

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