Massachusetts’ health care under strain

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) contended two months ago that reports of a shortage in doctors in the United States are greatly exaggerated, but not so Massachusetts, where RomneyCare has put a strain on primary-care physicians. Add the cost overruns, the persistence of the underlying inefficiencies of American health care and one sees the downside of the programme. Less medically endowed states should take note, says the Times.

It is nearly two years since then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed this experiment into law. About 340,000 of the 600,000 uninsured state residents are now covered, which is a significant gain. However:

  • The dramatic rise in health care demand has not been met with a co-equal rise in supply of physicians.

  • This has fuelled a rise in costs, a resort to nurse practitioners and other non-M.D.s; it has made waits for appointments longer and resulted in other unwanted effects.

  • The surge in demand has stretched the state's corps of primary-care physicians.

  • Routine preventive care is likely to remain elusive for most people.

    As the New York Times reported this weekend, merely scheduling a physical can mean more than a year's wait in some parts of western Massachusetts.

    It may well be possible to mitigate these circumstances with the right "supply" incentives, says the Times: State lawmakers are currently proposing medical-school loan-forgiveness plans to draw primary-care physicians where they are needed, among other measures.

    It's worth noting that RomneyCare has done exceedingly little to correct American health care's excess costs compared to other advanced economies. Its cost has surged above initial estimates and shows few signs of abating. Overall medical costs continue to skyrocket in ways that threaten competitiveness, social services, pensions and more, says the Times.

    Source: Editorial, RomneyCare Under Strain, The Washington Times, April 9, 2008.

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    For more on Health Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 16 April 2008
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