Is Your Doctor Getting Ready to Quit?

In a recent editorial published by Investor's Business Daily, associate editor (and regular) Terry Jones revealed stunning poll data showing that 45 percent of American physicians "would consider leaving their practice or taking an early retirement" if Congress passed the proposed ObamaCare health legislation.

As a practicing physician, I'm not surprised. These numbers mirror the sentiments I've heard expressed by my professional colleagues. I've been in practice for over 15 years and I've never seen physician morale as low as it is today.

Older physicians have told me that they're glad to be "getting out" and retiring soon. Medical students have asked me whether they should switch to engineering or pharmacology before it's too late. Physicians in the middle of their careers are just hoping to survive any "reform."

The same IBD poll also showed that an overwhelming majority (65 percent) of physicians were opposed to the proposed expansion of government in medicine. And they have every reason to be concerned, based on past experience.

One reason that many physicians are skeptical of the proposed "reform" is because they already know what government-run health care is like, in the form of Medicare. Medicare is "single-payer health care" for the elderly. Many proponents of universal health care want to create "Medicare for all," claiming that it's a model of efficient, compassionate care. But as the New York Times recently reported, more doctors are opting out of Medicare (or limiting the number of Medicare patients they are willing to accept) for two simple reasons: "reimbursement rates are too low and paperwork too much of a hassle."

Medicare reimbursements are so low that many physicians could not survive if they relied solely on Medicare patients. Their patients with private insurance essentially subsidize their Medicare patients. Every time Congress passes another round of Medicare cuts, it merely worsens the problem as more doctors stop accepting new Medicare patients.

Physicians have also seen the problems in states such as Massachusetts that have attempted to implement universal health care, and the implications for the rest of the country.

The just-announced Baucus plan is based closely on the Massachusetts plan, including mandatory insurance, subsidies for low-income residents, and strict new regulations on insurance companies specifying who they must cover, what benefits they must provide, and what prices they can charge. As a result, insurance costs have skyrocketed, raising the costs of the state subsidies. In response, the state government has cut back on its payments to physicians and hospitals.

Dr. Katherine Atkinson, a primary care physician practicing in Amherst, MA, told the New York Times:

Every time I have a Medicaid patient, it's like handing them a $20 bill when they leave. I never went into medicine to get rich, but I never expected to feel as disrespected as I feel. Where is the incentive for a practice like ours?

Because of perverse government incentives punishing physicians for taking patients covered by the state's "public plan," many patients face long waits for care -- as much as a year for a routine physical exam in parts of Western Massachusetts. And this is despite the fact that Massachusetts "has the highest physician-to-population ratio of any state, in primary care as well as overall," according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Expanding the Massachusetts plan to the national level would merely multiply this problem by fifty.