By 2025, the U.S. will require an additional 52,000 primary care physicians, 43,000 of whom will be needed due to population growth and aging, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine. The study, which projected the number of primary care physicians needed in the U.S. through 2025 after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-158), found that expanding health insurance coverage accounts for the remaining 8,000 new physicians that will be needed by 2025.
Researchers estimated that by 2025 an increase in 51,880 primary care physicians will be needed, which works out to an additional 19.5 million physician visits or doctor’s appointments annually. The study looked at prior research which indicated that the passage of PPACA would require anywhere from a 4 to 5.2 percent increase in the use of all physicians, and projected that without changes in the U.S. system by 2025, the nation would suffer from a shortage of approximately 124,000 full time equivalent physicians. Anywhere from “44,000 to 46,000 of the “missing” would be primary care doctors.
Despite the growing trend of internal medicine residents selecting a subspecialty instead of choosing to be primary care physicians, provisions within PPACA may make becoming a primary care physician more attractive. These provisions include proposed increases for primary care physician reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid, and a new national primary care extension service which would support a satisfied primary care work force. PPACA also provided a one-time investment of $168 million to increase the number of medical school graduates entering into primary care, which is expected to produce 500 additional physicians, or 5,000 new physicians over 10 years. The study does point out, however, that going forward policy makers must take geographic distribution issues into consideration, which could become worse if the newly insured are centered in physician-scarce areas.