One of the marks of national health care is the waiting-list problem that plagues Britain and Canada. Delays in treatment have caused suffering and, in some cases, death. Soon, we'll be waiting for doctors too.
Last week, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that the looming doctor shortage will be worse than previous reports claim because of ObamaCare.
Rather than "a baseline shortage of 39,600 doctors in 2015, current estimates bring that number closer to 63,000, with a worsening of shortages through 2025," says the medical college group's Center for Workforce Studies.
Unless the country acts now, says the Center for Workforce Studies, we will be more than 91,000 doctors short in just 10 years. The number includes a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists.
This study confirms what others have said.
Two years ago, the physician search firm of Merritt, Hawkins & Associates estimated that by 2020 the U.S. will need 90,000 to 200,000 more doctors than we will have. At that point, the wait to see a doctor for a routine visit would be three to four months.
A year after the Merritt Hawkins report, Joseph Stubbs, president of the American College of Physicians, the country's second-largest doctor group, talked about the arrival of "a catastrophic crisis" even before ObamaCare had been passed and signed.
"Now we're talking 30 million more people who will want to see a doctor" under the Democrats' overhaul he said. "The supply of doctors just won't be there for them."
As alarming as those numbers are, the reality might be worse. The ranks will be thinned as physicians simply refuse to work under ObamaCare. In August 2009, 45% of doctors told IBD/TIPP Poll that they would consider leaving their practices or taking early retirement if the Democrats' version of reform were to become law. And it did.
The doctors cited various reasons behind their decisions to leave. But the most common explanations centered around the increased costs under the Democrats' plan, the bureaucratic controls it would bring and its lack of protection from runaway malpractice lawsuits.
"This unconstitutional plan gives sovereignty over our bodies to unelected, unaccountable, ignorant bureaucrats," said one. "Every governmental micromanagement of our lives has failed in its objective, and caused moral and economic bankruptcy."
While the oncoming shortage will hit everyone, the Center for Workforce Studies says "the impact will be most severe on vulnerable and underserved populations." And weren't those the very people the Democrats said they wanted to help by moving the country into a national health care system?
It's almost ironic, then, that their attempt to add 32 million to the rolls of the insured will exacerbate the coming physician shortage and is likely to create the sort of disastrous waiting lists that have led to unnecessary pain, suffering and death in Canada and Great Britain.
Don't think that it can't happen here. It already has.
In Boston, where the state government runs health care and in doing so has boosted the insured rate from 93.6% to 97.4%, the average waiting time to see a family doctor, according to Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, is now 63 days. That's the lengthiest wait in the 15 cities the group surveyed and almost two months longer than the wait in Miami, where it's a relatively short seven days.
With Boston being home to no less than 14 teaching hospitals and located in the state with the highest concentration of doctors, shouldn't the wait times be much shorter?
Yes, but the intrusion of government changes the calculation. Merritt Hawkins said the longer wait is "driven in part" by the state's health care reform initiative.
As is almost always the case, a proposal for government to step in and improve lives actually makes matters worse. A few Americans might be better off under ObamaCare than they were before. But for almost everyone else, health care quality will decline.