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Obamacare's Doctor Dilemma

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America has a looming problem -- and Obamacare is going to make it worse. That's the conclusion from two former U.S. Senate majority leaders -- one a Democrat and the other a Republican.

It's rare that two influential members from both major U.S. political parties agree on anything related to the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. But former Democrat Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle from South Dakota and former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from Tennessee recently co-wrote an article in Health Affairs that pointed out that the U.S. faces a doctor dilemma. And they say that Obamacare seems likely to make the problem even bigger.

A dearth of doctors
What is this doctor dilemma? Daschle and Frist wrote that there are "alarming doctor shortages across the country." They're right.

The state of Hawaii reported 18% fewer doctors than needed in 2012. A recent study in the Greater Cincinnati area also found an 18% shortage of primary care physicians in that region. Actual and projected physician shortages have been identified in at least 33 states in the past few years. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that around 30 million Americans live in areas where there are too few health-care providers.

This problem isn't going away. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the U.S. faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020. That shortfall will grow to over 130,000 by 2025. These numbers more optimistic than estimates from the American Academy of Family Physicians, which projects a shortage of nearly 149,000 doctors by 2020.

Obamacare makes it worse
Several factors are driving the need for more physicians. Although the overall U.S. population is growing only modestly, more people translates to demand for more doctors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of elderly Americans will double by 2030 -- with increased need for medical services.

While demand for physicians increase, one out of every three doctors currently practicing in the U.S. is over age 55. Many of these doctors will retire in the next decade. Medical schools have experienced increased enrollment over the last four years, but the number of potential new doctors isn't enough to offset the other trends.

Daschle and Frist say that Obamacare will make the physician shortage even worse. A report published in the Annals of Family Medicine supports their view. The study projected a physician shortfall of 52,000 by 2025 -- lower than some of the other estimates. However, research data indicated this need for more doctors is 18% higher than it would have been without implementation of Obamacare.

How will Obamacare worsen the physician shortage? The clearest way is through increasing demand for health care itself. If health reform enables 30 million more Americans to gain insurance as intended, these individuals will in all likelihood seek more medical care than before they had insurance. It's this impact that brought Dashle and Frist to agree that Obamacare could lead to more challenges in balancing the supply and demand for physicians.

The former senators point to technology as a key opportunity for solving the problem. Several experts asked recently by the Wall Street Journal about how to address the physician shortage also indicated that use of technology could help, particularly with helping doctors work more efficiently and shifting more care to home settings. Such solutions also present opportunities for investors.

One company working to help make physicians more efficient is athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN  ) . In June, health-care research firm KLAS named the company's electronic medical record system as the top-ranked system for physicians in terms of usability, efficiency, and effectiveness. The stock is up 44% year-to-date.

IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) hopes to change the way physicians provide care with its Watson technology. Big Blue is targeting the natural language capabilities, hypothesis generation, and evidence-based learning capabilities of Watson to support doctors in diagnosing and treating patients. What could be interesting is how this technology might also enable other health-care providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide higher level of care.

Some observers maintain that the physician shortage is really more of a location problem. Some areas have plenty of doctors while others have too few. Telemedicine is a technology that could help alleviate this issue. Research firm InMedica thinks that the use of telemedicine and related technologies will explode more than 700% by 2017.

Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) looks to be a winner if this prediction comes true. Its Qualcomm Life unit focuses on remote health management. The company's 2Net cloud platform for connecting biometric devices to remotely hosted applications opens the door to a wide array of possibilities for health-care providers to remotely monitor patients.

Even if other solutions are implemented to help solve the nation's doctor dilemma, these technology companies should benefit from increased use of their products. A shortfall in the number of physicians could lead to a windfall for smart investors.

Are there other ways to profit from Obamacare? You bet there are. In this free report, our analysts walk you through the tremendous opportunities created by health reform and the companies that are positioned to exploit them. The informational edge contained in it is invaluable, but can only be exploited profitably while the rest of the market remains in the dark. To access this free report instantly, simply click here now.

Read/Post Comments (21) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 2:14 PM, VRSEFgold wrote:

    Do you trust Obama and his ObamaCare?

    • "Obama: 1961 Vital Statistics -- Race And Color”

    According to the U. S.

    Public Health Service, births in the United States in 1961 were

    classified for vital statistics into White, Negro, American Indian, Chinese,

    Japanese, Aleut, Eskimo, Hawaiian and Part-Hawaiian (combined), and

    "other nonwhite." (Not African as shown in Box 9 of Obama’s Birth


    Prior to 2009, the latest revision to the actual long form took place in 2004.

    In 1961, a black person was listed as either 'Black' or 'Negro'. Not until 2009 (revised 1/09), did codes for those of the “Negro Race” become listed just 'African' as is shown on Obama's COLB (box 9, Father’s Race).

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 2:31 PM, therylmccoy wrote:

    Dear Motley Fools,

    Please shut up already with your Obamacare bashing. You sound like a scared kid afraid of the boogie man in the closet.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 2:34 PM, castlerocku wrote:

    ahhh, the difference here is you lied and now must pay, no repub voted for the bill. sorry for your lose in the next election democrats. We are only talking about obamacare so do not respond with other stuff that does not talk about this issue. and what romney did or did not do does not count he lost so his policies were rejected. same with any other institution or politician in the repub party, they did not institute/pass any laws, so do not say well they said the same thing, dems passed the actual law.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 3:07 PM, yoodum wrote:

    it doesn't matter what our elected officials say, listen to the doctors.

    many doctors are saying they will quit before working under the obamacare guidelines.

    your health care is on the way down the crapper along with the country because of stupid greed.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 3:48 PM, Americanized wrote:

    At what point did becoming a doctor mean you would become a millionaire ?

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 4:23 PM, TimFeatherston wrote:

    Doctors will be leaving because of the over reaching regulations, increases in work loads and reductions in fees. Hospitals will be losing money on Medicaid and Medicare. They are already being forced to reduce there number Nurses and staff while there will be an increase in the number of "federally assisted" patients. It will not be worth the headaches and stress. Nurses are leaving the public hospitals and clinics by the thousands

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 5:58 PM, angelgalwendy wrote:

    Lawmakers should include licensed naturopathic physicians (NDs) as primary care providers. NDs take the exact same classes as MDs and DOs, and our training is virtually identical until the residency portion of our education. We graduate from accredited naturopathic medical schools that are recognized by the US Dept of Education (and paid for with financial aid), and we must pass boards that are nearly identical to the MD and DO boards in order to practice.

    It's only logical to pull in this trained, competent and proven population of health care professionals into service to meet the demands of our nation.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 7:04 PM, roger142 wrote:

    The simple solution is to have more medical schools. I know most medical schools have a back log of students wanting to be doctors, but they only have so many slots.

    As for all the people who will be able to get medical care starting next January due to Obamacare, great, its better than them waiting until the last minute and going to the ER and ending up bankrupt.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 8:40 PM, JeremieP1 wrote:

    Any article the presents three percentiles Hawaii doctor shortage, Cincinati doctor shortage, and US increased need for physicians under obama care that all are exactly 18% should be suspect. Why isn't there a 19% or a 17% anywhere in this article? Bizarre. Basic principle is correct though - there is will be a physician shortfall in the coming years for many reasons including several not mentioned here: physicians are not working as many hours, more physicians are female and less female physicians work full time than male physicians, older physicians are less interested in adapting to changes in obamacare and will retire earlier to avoid it.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:10 PM, NoMoeMoney wrote:

    Well, I guess the old adage of 'only the strong survive' will come into play again soon? Stay healthy folks,,,

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 9:53 PM, drjcm wrote:

    As a physician I can say that anyone who thinks an electronic medical record saves time has no idea about physician work flow. Everyone I know spends at least 20% more time on each patient keeping the computer happy. 2 physicians in my small town are leaving medicine due to the ever increasing hoops we are required to jump through to provide patient care. The flow of physicians into primary care specialties is a trickle when it needs to be a flood (if all physicians finishing med school were required to do primary care instead of another specialty we would not have the percent in primary care that Britain or Canada have until 2028). Obamacare is promising care which cannot possibly be delivered due to the lack of the right kind of doctors, and slowing everyone down 5-10 minutes for every patient seen clearly aggravates the crisis. The ER will be a large part of the primary care network for the foreseeable future of necessity.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:07 PM, JohnDoe98765 wrote:

    "Lawmakers should include licensed naturopathic physicians (NDs) as primary care providers. NDs take the exact same classes as MDs and DOs, and our training is virtually identical until the residency portion of our education"

    What are you smoking from your crazy herbs? In NO way is ND anything compared to MD/DO. DO is identical now to MD except they do a few odd add ons but are identical. You must be delusional to think that any exam the ND takes is even comparable to the Step Exams MDs take, or even the COMPLEX which DOs take.

    My medical school was in no way comparable to any wack job ND, and I take offense that you are even allowed to attempt to claim physician title. Physicians are only MD/DOs.

    Medical school builds the foundation for allowing you to be successful for your training in residency. We are entrusted people's greatest asset, their lives and in no way do I think anybody should be qualified to be treating something so important without all the checks in balances the current system has. Is it perfect, no, but there are many steps in trying to make it as safe as possible. That doesn't mean people don't get through that shouldn't, but it's world's of difference than the craziness of ND snake oil.

    This is actually the problem in the US, band aid fixes by trying to add more chiefs in the kitchen, not enough workers. Everyone wants to be "the doctor," without the training, sacrifice and time. You can take bringing down costs by using lower skilled training, but don't except for the same results.

    Healthcare needs to be given back to the people that practice it, the doctors and the nurses not senators whom are all a bunch of lawyers with no background in medicine.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2013, at 10:43 PM, willy1514 wrote:

    I am a retired surgeon who quit at 56. I couldn't stand paper pushers (admin) in my group, my hospital, insurance companies or the GOVERNMENT. If I had it to do over, I'd have hung it up two years earlier. I have no idea why anyone would continue in such a THANKLESS job.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 12:39 AM, Shaul11 wrote:

    Private Health Insurers and their partners in crime the Private Hospitals ganged up for decades to exploit the rotten health care delivery system in America by price fixing health care services and making it simply unaffordable for more than 50 million uninsured Americans. When Clinton tried to do something about it, they conspired with Monika Lewinsky and ruined his Presidency. Now it is the time of reckoning for all these health care mafia and their political banditos in Congress. .

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 12:53 AM, Evolutionist wrote:

    While some retrogrades, like predators still glamorize the “Darwinism” among its own people in this country, in Brazil and Venezuela the governments are solving their doctor’s shortage by importing more than 34,000 doctors and dentist from Cuba who will work in poor and remote areas. One for communism zero for capitalism. I don’t condone communism, I love America’s freedom, but it’s time for capitalism and us to be responsible humanistic ally with our fellow Americans the same way our President is doing it, because not all People are born with same dreams and projects. There are some who are born with strong dreams and their projects are strong. Also, there are others who are born with semi-strong dreams and their projects are semi-strong; there are others who are born with weak dreams, and their projects are weak, and finally there are some who are born sick and without dreams. And what do you primitives want to do with that people: To kill them? If your answer is yes, definitely: you are not a good American. You are a calamity for the world and a shame for this country.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 1:40 AM, dannystrong wrote:

    This problem has been coming along for a goodly while -- that GP's have been thinning out has been a trend for a couple of decades. That the Obamites simply ignored it and charged ahead without caring if the plan would actually work will be the downfall of the plan.

    Their scheme was essentially to push the nation off a cliff, and then work out details later. (Recent comments from the chief henchman -- Harry Reid -- show that the cliff was known, recognized, and cynically hidden until it was too late.) At least we all know for certain we're just lemmings to them.

    Of course, if you believe in fairy tales like "there are plenty of doctors" (or even better, that doctors will somehow be coerced into being good little robots for zee plan), or believe that doctors can be manufactured upon demand, then you must be lawyer.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 9:25 AM, yardomd wrote:

    Security, healthcare and fiduciary fiscal fitness all begin with you. Eat less, live longer. Spend less, save more. Buy quality stocks, hold them for 10 years, or longer. If it seems too complicated, just buy BRK/B.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 6:33 PM, TMFPennyWise wrote:

    Keith, I don't think we would have a shortage of doctors if we did away with the "Fee-For-Service" model for the doctors and hospitals. Here is what Bill Frist, physician and former Republican Senator, had to say about excess billing and procedures authorized by physicians and hospitals in the article you linked:

    In March 2012, the National Commission on Physician Payment Reform (of which Sen. Frist was a co-chair) recommended the abandonment of the fee-for-service model. Frist argued that the model is “the major driver of higher health care costs in the United States [because it] contains incentives for increasing the volume and cost of services (whether appropriate or not), encourages duplication, discourages care coordination, and promotes inefficiency in the delivery of medical services.”

    Anybody like me who has had family members in hospitals has most certainly observed these inefficiencies (and I would even add greed and graft to the list).

    If the medical industry could be forced to cut the fat and excess from their care delivery and re-focus on efficient good health best practices in the best interest of the patients we would have plenty of doctors, have a healthy population, and save lots of money too.

    Some could say the medical industry needs a major disruptor (something like Tesla is shaking up the domestic auto industry?) to reshape it into a lean machine that can deliver reasonable good health to all. Is that Obamacare? I don't know for sure, but perhaps that plan is a step in the right direction.

  • Report this Comment On August 27, 2013, at 7:30 AM, mainelegal wrote:

    The health care system consumes double the GDP in the USA of other first world countries, while providing less comprehensive care. It seems reasonably possible that the system itself will be starved for revenue in various ways until an equilibrium closer to the international norm is achieved in both cost and access.

    Obvious targets are the inefficiencies of widespread provider access to insurance or government transfer payments through consolidation and centralization, more routine resort to paraprofessional care through PAs, Nurse Practitioners and even web or data based screening and treatment, and elimination or restriction of cost shifting to worker compensation programs, stacked insurance availabilities, liability litigation and similar. Paying the world price for pharmaceuticals seems likely.

    Look north to Canada to see what will actually work if you're convinced Obamacare cannot. My own view is that it probably can, once those who profit from the status quo are convinced a change is inevitable.

    The comment that the cure is to open more medical schools slots is the same remedy Ted Kennedy proposed in 1975.

  • Report this Comment On August 27, 2013, at 7:47 AM, broknrekord3 wrote:

    Wow. Correlation does not equal causation, unless, I guess, your own politics get in the way. This seems a stretch to assume Obamacare has done or will do anything regarding the shortage, that's like blaming the guy putting a new nozzle on the hose for the lack of water pressure when the source is running dry.

    Hey, remember that student loan debt? Think that had anything to do with it? I'd be working on my doctorate if tuition wasn't sky-high. Nevermind that, my friends that are working on their phD are more concerned with dealing with insurance issues than anything skill-related, so stop blaming Obamacare for every burp in our outdated system. No one wanted single-payer, so this is what you get.

  • Report this Comment On August 30, 2013, at 12:12 AM, medocivikian wrote:

    Based on current statistics, there is a shortage of approximately 70.000 general practitioners. There are approximately 60,000 licensed chiropractors with a minimum of four years of post graduate education. Seems like a simple solution to a complex question. Simply allow them to fill the void.

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