Experts are predicting a shortage of primary care doctors in the next few decades, just when Boomers will need them the most — with skyrocketing medical debt to blame.
Bloomberg’s Janet Lorin reports that the median student loan debt for 2012 medical student grads has reached an astronomical $170,000. That number includes additional debt from undergrad, but does not include accrued interest. Tuition for all four years is typically more than $200,000 and can reach as high as $300,000 at some elite institutions.
All told, 2012 medical school graduates faced $1.7 billion in combined debt.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke even testified to Congress last year that his son, a student at Cornell’s medical school, is facing $400,000 in loans.
When looking at this kind of debt, it’s likely med school students will increasingly choose higher-paying specialties, leaving a shortage of primary care doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates by 2020 there wil be 45,000 too few primary care physicians. The AAMC also predicts a shortage of 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists.
Demand for primary care is actually increasing. The Affordable Care Act places a big emphasis on primary and preventative care, because it helps catch problems early, rather than waiting until they become chronic conditions or require a trip to the emergency rooms. That helps reduce health care costs.
The law makes preventative care services free to Medicare and Medicaid enrollees, and provides incentives to doctors that treat them. It total, around 40 million Medicaid enrollees and 50 million Medicare seniors now have free access.
Some of those services can come from nurse practitioners and other sources, but it’s still going to put strain on the system.
“I don’t there’s a question that there aren’t going to be enough docs,” Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove told Business Insider in an interview.
The swelling costs of medical school haven’t turned all students away. Enrollment grew at medical school by 1.5 per cent in the last year, reports Bloomberg. But the increasing costs could be deterring more students from getting on the medical school track and helping solve the looming doctor shortage ahead. The high potential for debt is likely turning away low-income students and minorities as well.
Matthew Moy, a third-year medical student told Bloomberg’s Lorin that he’s racked up about $190,000 in debt. “When I think about it, it will keep me up at night,” he said. “I’m dreading the exit interview when I will find out exactly how much I’ll have to pay back.”
80-six per cent of medical school students have at least some debt, according to data from the association. The data also showed that grants and scholarships “rarely” are enough to cover all medical student tuition bills.
In addition, the amount of residency training positions — required after medical school in order to become certified doctors — aren’t keeping up with growing enrollments, despite the amount of money students are pumping into their education. Medicare provides support for many residency positions, but its funding for the training programs has been frozen for 15 years.
The AAMC issued a statement in March saying it was dismayed by the number of graduating medical students unmatched with residency training this year, calling it cause for “significant concern.”