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Physician Shortage Could Hit 90K by 2025

By John Commins  
   March 04, 2015

The Association of American Medical Colleges is calling on Congress to immediately fund an additional 3,000 medical residency slots each year in addition to the 27,000 to 29,000 residency slots already in place.

Under a best case scenario, the nation's graying and growing population will contend with a shortage of at least 46,000 physicians within 10 years, Association of American Medical Colleges projections show.

That shortfall could hit 90,000 by 2025 if the healthcare sector fails to aggressively embrace and promote the use of non-physician clinicians, and adopt more efficient care and payment models such as patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations, AAMC said.

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In addition, AAMC wants Congress to immediately fund an additional 3,000 residency slots each year, in addition to the 27,000 to 29,000 residency slots already in place. Graduate Medical Education has been capped for the past two decades. What was a supposed to be a temporary cap has become permanent.

"What we are suggesting is a modest increase in that cap right now," AAMC Chief Health Officer Janis M. Orlowski, MD, told reporters Tuesday. The estimated cost of the bill is $10 billion over 10 years. "This does not alleviate the physician shortage in any of the different scenarios that we are looking at. We see it as a multipronged approach," she said.

The AAMC projections include a shortfall of 12,500 to 31,100 primary care physicians, and between 28,200 and 63,700 subspecialists.

Orlowski says it's a simple case of supply and demand.

"Although physicians supply in the US is projected to increase modestly between 2013 and 2025 demand will grow more steeply," she says. "Specifically, total demand for physician services is projected to grow as much as 17%."

"The bottom line is that the physician shortage is real; it is significant. It's particularly serious for the kind of medical care our aging population will need, and it must be addressed today, in 2015, if patients are going to be able to get the care they need in 2025. The good news it is not too late to fix this. Congress needs to act now."

Residency training costs about $16 billion nationally, of which Medicare provides about $3 billion. It costs about $152,000 a year to train a physician, of which Medicaid pays $40,000. The average student debt after graduating from medical school is about $176,000 AAMC says.

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AAMC President/CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, told reporters "the onus is on Congress to lift the artificial cap that has been in place since the 1990s and do its share of contributing to the training."

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.

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