Obamacare is predictably resulting in longer hospital wait times due to the increased demand while the supply of doctors remains the same. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports:
It wasn’t supposed to work this way, but since the Affordable Care Act took effect in January, Norton Hospital has seen its packed emergency room become even more crowded, with about 100 more patients a month.
That 12 percent spike in the number of patients — many of whom aren’t actually facing true emergencies — is spurring the Louisville hospital to convert a waiting room into more exam rooms.
… That’s just the opposite of what many people expected under Obamacare, particularly because one of the goals of health reform was to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by expanding Medicaid and giving poor people better access to primary care.
Instead, many hospitals in Kentucky and across the nation are seeing a surge of those newly insured Medicaid patients walking into emergency rooms.
… Experts cite many reasons: A long-standing shortage of primary-care doctors leaves too few to handle all the newly insured patients. Some doctors won’t accept Medicaid. And poor people often can’t take time from work when most primary care offices are open, while ERs operate round-the-clock and by law must at least stabilize patients.
Plus, some patients who have been uninsured for years don’t have regular doctors and are accustomed to using ERs, even though it is much more expensive.
… Bill Wagner, executive director of Family Health Centers, a Louisville-based network of clinics serving the poor, echoed many others about why people are flocking to ERs: “More than anything, this highlights the shortage of primary-care physicians.”
… “We still turn some patients away,” Wagner said. “Overall in the community, there’s still a shortage. … The demand may get out ahead of the supply for a while.”
A workforce capacity study conducted for the state by Deloitte Consulting last year found that Kentucky needed 3,790 more doctors, including 183 more primary-care physicians, to meet pre-ACA demand. Under the law, it said the state may need to add an additional 284 primary-care physicians by 2017. Complicating matters, a quarter of Kentucky’s primary-care doctors could be ready to retire within five years, the report said.
The report also said roughly 56 percent of the state’s primary-care physicians, and 22 percent of all physicians, accepted a Medicaid payment in 2011, which Deloitte said was its best estimate for figuring out how many physicians accept Medicaid.
In sum, Obamacare is resulting in increased demand for care while the supply of doctors remains the same. Now, what does basic economics tell us about what happens to prices when demand outgrows supply?
Get Used to Higher Prices and Longer Waits
And this is not just a short-term problem. It is not as simple as waiting for the next generation of doctors to complete medical school and join their veteran counterparts to help meet the increased demand for primary-care physicians. That’s because the government’s longstanding intervention in the market for health care has distorted the pricing system, including with outright price-fixing — as with Medicaid payments.
This is why only 22 percent of physicians nationwide accepted Medicaid in 2011. Medicaid aside, one of the primary ways that Obamacare-compliant insurance companies are keeping premiums down is by providing even more limited networks of doctors who are willing to accept lower fees.
Not exactly a very good time to decide to make a career as a doctor.
The above article treats the increased demand for medical care and overwhelming of hospitals as though it was an unexpected consequence of Obamacare. On the contrary, this was perfectly predictable. I had this to say about it, for example, back in October 2012:
The ACA in fact does nothing to reduce health care costs and, apart from the name, doesn’t pretend to. Rather, it seeks to try to manage costs by shifting the burden from one group of people to another, such as to health care providers (such as via the aforementioned reductions in Medicare spending, which will likely lead to fewer doctors accepting Medicare patients), and in ways that will likely only exacerbate the underlying problems. With the artificial increase in demand that will result, while the supply of doctors remains the same, the predictable result will be that it pushes costs even higher, either in terms of money or time spent in the waiting room, or both.
Get used to this trend.