How Physicians Are Reacting to the Affordable Care Act

Written by on July 31, 2012 in Law & Finance - No comments

By Taylor Arnold

Much has been said about the impact the Affordable Care Act will have on November’s presidential election, and even more has been made of effect this legislation will have on insurance companies, small businesses and individuals in this country. With so much buzz about higher premiums and cheaper prescription drug coverage, it’s easy to overlook the impact that health care reform will have on the medical professionals who provide this care. But our country’s physicians are facing an array of changes in hospitals and private practices alike, so it should come as no surprise that this legislation is getting mixed reactions from all sides of the medical community.

Under the new law, most Americans will be required to carry health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. The law also guarantees that health insurance will be available to those who are already ill or need expensive care, ultimately helping many poor and middle-class people afford coverage. As a result, hospitals can expect an influx of approximately 32 million newly insured patients. So the question now is, how are physicians reacting to these changes?

The American Medical Association (AMA) responded to the Supreme Court’s June 28th ruling by saying, “The American Medical Association has long supported health insurance coverage for all, and we are pleased that this decision means millions of Americans can look forward to the coverage they need to get healthy and stay healthy.”

The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Hospital Association and the American Nurse’s Association issued similar statements that were equally supportive of the decision. So it would seem that a majority of physicians and medical professionals in this country wholeheartedly support this new legislation.

While the AMA supports the Affordable Care Act, it’s important to note that the organization’s membership represents only 15 percent of practicing doctors in America. So where do the other 75 percent stand on this issue?

According to a survey conducted by Kantar Health and Sermo, Inc. following the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, 71 percent of U.S. physicians want major changes to the law. Fifty-seven percent of the 1500 respondents said they would like to see the law repealed altogether, while 14 percent would keep the law but undertake major bipartisan revisions. Twenty-six percent favor keeping the law and “fine tuning” it over time.

That is not to say that these physicians are not in support of health care for all; they simply do not believe the government should have so much control over the health care system.

Furthermore, with 32 million additional patients to treat, many of these physicians will have to do more with less. Because the Supreme Court’s decision gives states the option to extend Medicaid benefits to all non-Medicare individuals under the age of 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level, Medicaid programs could potentially expand to hundreds of thousands more residents. As a result, Medicare reimbursements to doctors will be lower, causing some to stop taking on new Medicare patients altogether. Consequently, organizations like America’s Medical Society (AMS) are unveiling initiatives to help physicians preserve their independent practices and privately contract with patients for their medical treatment.

Then there is the issue of the ongoing physician shortage. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, “The United States already was struggling with a critical physician shortage and the problem will only be exacerbated as 32 million Americans acquire health care coverage, and an additional 36 million people enter Medicare. Between now and 2015, the year after health care reforms are scheduled to take effect, the shortage of doctors across all specialties will quadruple.”

So the challenge now is accounting for the tens of millions of new people to come on to the health care rolls. Will there be enough doctors to take care of them? And are the country’s medical institutions capable of creating a system that does, in fact, offer health care for all?

Ultimately most physicians can agree that decreasing the number of uninsured is a step in the right direction. After all, it could mean a decline in the amount of free care that hospitals provide to uninsured patients, as these patients will soon have access to insurance. The test now is to see if this influx of insured patients reduces the amount of debt a hospital incurs when uninsured patients don’t pay. In an ideal world, the Affordable Care Act will improve a hospital’s bottom line, and by extension, their physicians’ livelihood.

Not surprisingly, there is no widespread consensus as to how this decision will play out, but one thing’s for sure: the nation’s doctors and hospital administrators, like most Americans, just want to keep costs down and deliver the best outcome possible. Only time will tell if the Affordable Care Act will prompt significant improvements to the state of health care in this country.

References:

  1. Affordable Care Act website. http://www.healthcare.gov/law/features/index.html. Accessed July 10, 2012.
  2. The American Medical Association website. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2012-06-28-supreme-court-health-care-reform-decision.page. Accessed July 11, 2012.
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians website. http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/publications/news/news-now/government-medicine/20120628supremecourtruling.html. Accessed July 11, 2012.
  4. American Hospital Association website. http://ahahealthreformlaw.wordpress.com. Accessed July 12, 2012.
  5. American Nurse’s Association website. http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/Policy-Advocacy/HealthSystemReform/Pres-Daley-Letter.html. Accessed July 12, 2012.
  6. U.S. Politics Today (July 11, 2012). 71% of US Physicians Want Major Changes to Affordable Care Act [press release]. http://uspolitics.einnews.com/pr_news/104629089/71-of-us-physicians-want-major-changes-to-affordable-care-act. Accessed July 12, 2012.
  7. The Washington Times. Doctors vs. Obamacare: Can your physician simply ‘opt-out’?. http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/medicine-and-politics-america/2012/jan/17/doctors-vs-obamacare-can-your-physician-simply-opt/. Published January 17, 2012. Accessed July 12, 2012.
  8. American Association of Medical Colleges (September 30, 2010). AAMC Releases New Physician Shortage Estimates Post-Reform [press release]. https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/newsreleases/2010/150570/100930.html. Accessed July 12, 2012.

Acknowledgements:

Author has no relevant conflicts.

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