Physicians

Health Care Future Bright for Nurses. Stinks for Doctors.


There are lots of losers in President Obama’s effort to remake the U.S. health care system, and chief among them are the doctors.  But there are also winners, especially nurses and physician assistants (PAs).  Indeed, nurses and PAs win big in part because doctors lose badly.

Surveys repeatedly show doctors are fed up with low reimbursement rates from Medicare and even lower from Medicaid, which have increasingly led doctors to no longer see new patients in those government-run plans.  For example, a recent Texas Medical Association survey found that “34 percent of Texas doctors either limit the number of Medicare patients they accept or don’t accept any new Medicare patients.”  Even more do not accept patients with Medicaid.

Then there’s the heavy-handed regulations and requirements from both government and private health insurers.  Complying with all those requirements and paperwork creates expensive and time-consuming administrative burdens.  And to top it off, there’s the looming shadow of a high-cost lawsuit if things don’t turn out well.

And that’s all before ObamaCare kicks in, which will exacerbate every one of those problems.  So it’s little wonder that there are physician shortages, especially in lower-paying primary care, and those shortages are only going to get worse if ObamaCare succeeds in getting an estimated 32 million more Americans insured.

The increased demand for medical care and lower reimbursements—which is one of the primary ways ObamaCare will try to hold down costs—is a recipe for a mass exodus of doctors willing to practice medicine.  As “Physicians Practice” reported in August from its physician survey: “Nineteen percent say they plan to move to another position in the same field.  An equal amount says they plan to leave medicine—not to retire, but to pursue something new.”

So who will provide the needed care if the doctors exit?  Enter the nurses and physician assistants.

If ObamaCare withstands the Supreme Court challenge and Republicans fail to “repeal and replace” it, more nurses will be called on to provide more care that historically has been provided only by physicians—a trend that is already happening.

As the PBS NewsHour reported last May: “The scope of what nurses can do medically has also been growing for the past decade, at a time when the pool of primary care, or family doctors, has been shrinking. … And more and more are working on their own, especially in poor inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas, where there are few doctors in private practice.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the registered nurse (RN) will be the fastest growing profession between 2008 and 2018.  And the profession is financially rewarding.  The BLS estimates that the average salary for a registered nurse in 2010 was $67,720, or $32.56 an hour.  In 2009 the average salary was $63,750, or $30.65 per hour.  That’s about a 6 percent increase in a bad economy when millions of Americans were just thankful to have a job.

However, as in all professions, some segments do better than others.  A recent survey of 3,000 nurse practitioners conducted by “Advance for NPs and PAs” found full-timers earned $90,770 in 2010.  But nurse practitioners in emergency departments earned on average $104,549.  Good salaries considering that Medscape reports that nearly half of family physicians, with all their additional training and educational expenses, made between $100,000 and $175,000 in 2010.

Because ObamaCare will never bend the health care cost curve down—as the president repeatedly promised it would—something will have to give.  And doctors’ reimbursements will be on the amputation table.

Those payment cuts will surely be politically messy.  Just look at the current fight over Medicare reimbursements.  Yes, Congress is trying to stop the scheduled 27 percent cut in physician reimbursements—part of a 1997 law that says if Medicare grows faster than a certain rate, physician reimbursements must be cut to balance it out.  Because Congress postpones the cut every year, the scheduled cut keeps getting bigger.

That means doctors have received no significant Medicare increase in more than a decade, even though their costs to provide care go up every year.  In effect, the Medicare reimbursement problem has resulted in a 20 percent cut in inflation-adjusted dollars.  But what is an unacceptable cut for physicians could be an attractive increase for lower-earning nurses and PAs, many of whom are willing to take the lead on providing more comprehensive care.

While it may make sense to expand nurse and PA responsibilities, that decision should be made from the bottom up, in the context of doctors and nurses looking for ways to provide quality patient care at a reasonable cost.  It should not be the result of top-down micromanagement and price controls that leave health care providers scrambling to find a way to exist under Washington-imposed regulations.  Yet that’s exactly what ObamaCare will do.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. This post originally appeared at Forbes.

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Destiny JohnsonKeenan StraughdaveKarena KolwyckAlex V Recent comment authors
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Destiny Johnson
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Destiny Johnson

Doctors shouldn’t be the primary concern at this point. The 30 million Americans who are without insurance are. I believe that this article is bias and should be more reasonable. Doctors shouldn’t have to be paid more to accept patients. I understand that is hard work accepting more patients it is also hard work when citizens cant get to the doctor when they need to. Doctors should be fighting to lower cost and still insure quality healthcare.

Keenan Straugh
Guest
Keenan Straugh

If the face book is closed how to play the games?

dave
Guest

I feel bad for seniors because doctors will treat seniors on Medicare with a lower quality of care because they do not get paid as much.

Karena Kolwyck
Guest
Karena Kolwyck

Earache can be really annoying but i usually take some pain killers and antibiotics to manage it.*

Our own webpage
http://www.healthmedicinelab.com/canker-sore-remedy/

Alex V
Guest
Alex V

By the way. I WOULD PAY TO SEE A DOCTOR CHANGE AN ADULT’S BRIEFS FULL OF STOOL.

Alex V
Guest
Alex V

Okay, a couple points here for the author: 1) Love this quote: “and those shortages are only going to get worse if ObamaCare succeeds in getting an estimated 32 million more Americans insured.” More people insured? Oh no!!!!! What a comment to say with our broken managed care system. 2) “As the PBS NewsHour reported last May: ‘The scope of what nurses can do medically has also been growing for the past decade, at a time when the pool of primary care, or family doctors, has been shrinking. … And more and more are working on their own, especially in… Read more »

Adaeze U.
Guest
Adaeze U.

Obama care or Medicaid expansion which ever we chose to call it is here to help ensure every citizen’s right to health care coverage is met even if in a minimal way. Am really surprised at the fact that we are more concerned with physicians’s reimbursement being cut than the poor masses getting taken care of. if as you mentioned their payment has been going up despite plans to have it down as the cost of health care is going up, then I believe its fair for the physicians gave off a little of what they have been getting with… Read more »

Hubert Williston
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Hubert Williston

Yes very heated and not to enlightening. Perhaps the AMA and its “”ologists” will decide to support the idea of posting the cost per patients per year for all physicians on the internet so in the true Republican free enterprise world patients can compare the cost of seeing a specialist instead of a primary care provider for their cold or ear ache. At least publish the costs for Medicare and Medicaid that I am paying with my taxes. Let the press have fun with the data!

platon20
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platon20

I always laugh every time I hear this nonsense. 1. Everybody bitches about MDs not working enough. Hell PAs and NPs put in HALF the number of hours of doctors. Guess how many of them are willing to work nights and weekends? Every MD who works with midlevels knows that they are strictly 9-5 folks. 2. Everybody says that PAs and NPs will take over primary care because MDs dont want it anymore. PAs and NPs are drawn MORE TO SUBSPECIALTIES THAN THE MDS ARE. Consider this — last year the Univ of Texas PA and NP programs graduated 127… Read more »

Petrosky
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Petrosky

PAs and NPs working in specialty practices with hospital privileges do not work 9-5 hours. They have office hours, hospital hours and take call after hours. If life was so cush physicians would not hire them. $160K in a subspecialty? Not according to all the national surveys. I’ve been working in a specialty and have not received a raise in almost 5 years. When I started I was making less than I did as a bedside nurse.

Alex V
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Alex V

“1. Everybody bitches about MDs not working enough. Hell PAs and NPs put in HALF the number of hours of doctors. Guess how many of them are willing to work nights and weekends? Every MD who works with midlevels knows that they are strictly 9-5 folks”.

Who complains about MDs not working enough?? You can’t fairly say that PAs and NPs work half the number of hours as doctors. These are a little overstated my friend. There are plenty of NPs and PAs that work nights and take call. You sound frustrated.

MD Supporter
Guest
MD Supporter

Quite a heated debate you have going…I have to say I believe there are definite flaws in the health care legislation. We need MD’s that have the knowledge for treatment, research, etc. Compensation for them has to be higher considering the huge student loan debt that follows them after graduation. Perhaps if the monetary cost to get there was reasonable, more would choose primary care, but right now in that field they could never repay their student loans.

Christy
Guest

Loved this article, it is sooo true with each word I read. I am currently an LPN in the healthcare field for over 10 years and realized without my Bachelors Degree I will not obtain a wage that is needed to survive or even have the respect deserved in the nursing field. Many MD are deciding to move to another professional due to not enough kick back for the lavous lifestyle they have grown acustomed too!!

Christy

GetalifeyoulameoAholes
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GetalifeyoulameoAholes

Don’t you above 6 commenters have some porn to be watching to be more productive?

BobbyG
Guest

Obvious, and juvie sock puppet troll login name.

Margalit Gur-Arie
Guest

Poor Mr. Puzder….
I wonder what sort of health care his employees have now at $12M per year for some 150,000 employees.
He is right though “The money to cover our increased expenses will have to come from somewhere”. May I suggest executive compensation as a good source….. and if that’s too difficult, then maybe junk food shouldn’t be so readily available and so cheap, and maybe we don’t need more minimum wage “jobs” in the poisoning of America sector.

http://www.faqs.org/sec-filings/110525/CKE-RESTAURANTS-INC_10-K.A/#item11

BobbyG
Guest

I just finished Yves Smith’s “eCONNED.” Highly recommended, if depressing.

DeterminedMD
Guest
DeterminedMD

thanks for the validation to my comment “look up hypocrisy and find some of these threads as examples.” That’s just great, tell people to give up their income, end a business because someone else does not value it. Your writings ooze of pure democratic commentary, just answer me this, Ms G-A, if you came into some extra money in the past year or so, did you write an extra check to the IRS to clear your conscience and do your part to help rectify the debt? If you honestly answer yes, then you are a better person than most, perhaps… Read more »

Margalit Gur-Arie
Guest

Let’s explore class warfare a wee bit, Dr. D. When a CEO of a company that pays minimum wages to most of its employees and simultaneously is taking $10M off the top, goes whining to congress that paying a few more miserable dollars per miserable employee will prevent him from creating jobs, that’s not class warfare. When corporations are deciding to keep ever increasing portions of profits in the hands of owners and top executives, while wages for all other employees remain flat for decades, that’s not class warfare. When international corporations like GE are manipulating the law to evade… Read more »

GetalifeyoulameoAholes
Guest
GetalifeyoulameoAholes

Tell you what, when we see legitimate photo opps of your pals Pelosi, Reid, Frank, Kerry, Shumer, or other entrenched political millionaire show us by example they are writing their own checks to help balance the budget and get Americans back on their feet, then you have some legitimate argument. Talk is cheap, and oh so how ironic that line is for what comes out of Washington these days. Tell us all, Ms G-A, what is this righteous line that defines greed versus legitimate capital efforts to earn an income, and why is your line right and another’s wrong? And… Read more »

DeterminedMD
Guest
DeterminedMD

Yeah, paying attention to the satire at the end and not what the link raises as alleged concerns why businesses will not hire more people in fear of being hit with more government financial regulations really is going to help this country. How about refuting what legitimate business people running companies that employ hundreds to thousands of workers are saying they see and are told by their financial advisors will cut into their bottom line. Oh yeah, at this site becoming Occupy Wall Street per net, no one deserves to make a dollar more than what essential expenses allow. Look… Read more »

DeterminedMD
Guest
DeterminedMD

Another interesting link to show us all how well thought out and conceived PPACA was, to really help restore the economy at least! http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-27/job-creation-is-price-for-new-u-s-health-law-commentary-by-andrew-puzder.html Hmm, you read this and wonder why the Democraps, er, Democrats did not have PPACA so boldly aligned with their reelection campaigns back in 2010, and not hearing many candidates running in 2012 talk it up so far now. Yeah, well you turn to your “leader” in Speader Pelosi and then find out, maybe you should read legislation before you pass it! Funny that term “Speaker”, it seems to be beholden to the person of the… Read more »

BobbyG
Guest

How mature and professional. Perhaps a more fitting calling for you would be that of AM talk radio.