By Alan Regenberg

 

The NY Times ran a front page, above-the-fold story on Sunday entitled ‘Doctor Shortage Likely to Worsen With Health Law’. While this story brings attention to an important challenge, the headline is wrong.  The doctor shortage alluded to in this title existed before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted.  You can deny 30 million patients access to care, but you can’t deny their need for care, a need which is independent of the law and its enactment.

 

This is not to say that the problem of providing care to 30 million more patients isn’t a major challenge, but rather that we should be very explicit in noting that the health law is not in any way worsening this problem. By expanding access, the health law should, in fact, provide a real incentive for more people to enter the marketplace as care providers.

 

A better frame for the story would have been to emphasize how the health law, while representing a historic step forward, leaves much work to be done.  It is a start, and not a solution to the challenges facing our healthcare system. Expanded access to care not only shines a brighter light on the existing provider shortage, but also draws attention to other challenges such as the absolute importance of controlling costs (and again, simply denying access to 30 million people is an ineffective and unethical method for controlling costs).

 

Republican leaders have demonstrated a deep commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, and have recently gone on record arguing that expanding access is ‘not the issue.’ I’d agree that it is not the only issue. But to claim that it is ‘not an issue’ is cruel and just plain wrong. Let’s remember the findings of yet another study (a study of the obvious sort, that we ought not even need to conduct), showing that when states “gave more poor people health insurance, fewer people died.

 

Alan Regenberg, MBe, is the Bioethics Research Manager at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. He is currently developing strategies to use social media as a tool for broad public engagement around issues in bioethics. You can follow him  @bermaninstitute or, using his inside voice @aregenberg.

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