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Fiscal Fix Needed for Physician Training

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

Deficit proposals to reduce Medicare GME support would "threaten access to critical services unavailable elsewhere and reduce physician training at a time when patient needs are increasing," Kirch wrote.

For Mitchell, it's a big part of her job to keep tabs on physician shortages and what she terms "inactivity in Congress and the administration" related to funding of physician education, as well as the pending collision of physician shortages and the patient demand for care. In a little over a year, as many as 32 million Americans will enter the health care system with health insurance, as the U.S. experiences the physician shortage.

That shortfall in medical service providers is exacerbated by the fact that one in three physicians is 60 or older, the typical age of retirement for doctors, Mitchell says. "Just like the general population is aging, and the Baby Boomers aging into Medicare, we have the physician Baby Boomers are approaching their retirement," she says.

The problem of medical school education funding, or as Mitchell puts it—"the massive cuts in support for physician training"—isn't as widely debated as the other issues, but may certainly add to the physician shortage as the AAMC sees it.

"Congress must lift the freeze on Medicare-supported residency positions," the AAMC said in a report this year. "Because all physicians must complete three or more years of residency training after they receive an MD degree, Medicare must continue paying for its share of training costs by supporting at least a 15% increase in GME (Graduate Medical Education) positions, allowing teaching hospitals to prepare another 4,000 physicians a year to meet the needs of 2020 and beyond."

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