Showing posts with label Affordable Care Act. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Affordable Care Act. Show all posts

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How to Fix the Primary Care Doctor Shortage

Many of the people who object to the January, 2014 implementation of the new Affordable Healthcare Act are concerned about possible doctor shortages.  This is a reasonable concern, especially for senior citizens, because a growing number of primary care physicians have already stopped accepting Medicare patients because Medicare doctor reimbursements are lower than the amount that doctors are paid by private insurance companies.  To make matters worse, according to an article entitled "How to Beat the Doctor Shortage" in the March, 2013 AARP Bulletin, more doctors than ever will be retiring in the coming decade.  Half of our country's physicians are over the age of 50. By some estimates, we already have a shortage of about 16,000 primary care doctors, especially pediatricians, internists and family doctors.  One reason for the shortage is because huge student loans force many young medical students to choose more lucrative specialties than family practice.  In other words, they feel that they simply cannot afford to practice general medicine.  When analysts look at these numbers, the situation seems dire, especially now that millions more Americans will soon become insured.

Solutions to the Primary Care Doctor Shortage

One of the lesser known provisions of our new healthcare system is that it will provide for an increase in the number of nurse practitioners and physician's assistants who are already being trained to handle routine health problems treating such as the flu, giving physicals, and supervising diets.  As a result, fewer doctors will be necessary for basic patient care.  The nurse practitioners and physician's assistants are also being trained to recognize when a patient may have a serious problem and should see a family doctor or specialist.

Another approach that is being tried in some medical schools is to shorten the length of time necessary to finish medical school.  In addition to turning out more doctors in less time, these new graduates will also have less student loan debt. 

Other ideas are also being implemented to encourage more medical students to enter general medicine.  For example, the National Health Service Corps will pay off up to $120,000  in student loans if young physicians will go to work in a community clinic, which is where many new patients will be treated in coming years.  Consequently, young medical students will no longer need to become surgeons or specialists just so they can afford to pay off their student debt.

This is an important issue, because a research study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council discovered that U.S. citizens are in poorer health and die younger than people who live in sixteen other nations, including those in Western Europe, Canada and Japan.  If we want to change this trend, our country will need to provide people with easier access to medical care.

Are You Having Trouble Finding a Doctor to Accept Medicare?

Meanwhile, if you are waiting for these new programs to increase your access to medical care, what can you do if you are on Medicare and having difficulty finding a doctor who will accept you?  Go to the website and look for the "Help and Resources" page.  Click on "Find doctors, hospitals and facilities."  You will need to enter your ZIP code.  Once you do, you will see a menu of different medical specialties, including primary care.  A list of general practitioners in your area will be shown, including their contact information.  Jot down the information on two or three and call their offices to make sure they still have openings.  There are still many, many doctors who will accept Medicare payments, so don't get discouraged.

Even if you are not on Medicare, this same list is a great way for anyone to find a list of doctors in their area who may be taking new patients.  You can also call or look up your state medical association online to see if they have a directory of new doctors who are just setting up their practice. Many of these new physicians are eager to find new patients. Your insurance company is also a great resource, as well as urgent care centers, hospitals and community clinics in your area.

If you are interested in learning more about aging and retirement, check out the index articles listed below.   Each one contains additional information as well as links to more articles on that topic.

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Baby Boomers

You are reading from the blog

Photo of healthcare professional courtesy of

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Update on 2014 Affordable Care Act

Now that January, 2014 is only a few months away, it is becoming clearer how the Affordable Care Act will be implemented.  Like millions of other Americans, I recently received a letter from my insurance carrier, Kaiser Permanente, that provided more information about what to expect in the coming months.

These changes will have a major impact on many families and it is important that all of us stay informed so we are prepared to make the best decision for our family.  In addition, you may want to read my earlier blog post, "Help Soon for Boomers Without Health Insurance," to learn a little more information about how the the new health insurance exchanges will work.

Brief Overview of Heathcare Reform Changes

As of January 1, 2014, nearly everyone in the United States will have new health insurance opportunities as the result of the Affordable Care Act.  Here are some facts you will want to know:

Nearly everyone will be required to purchase health insurance or they will pay a penalty on their taxes at the end of the year.  At the end of the first year the penalties will be minimal, allowing people time to become accustomed to the change.  Gradually, the tax penalties will increase.

Every state will operate a Health Insurance Marketplace or Exchange.  Open enrollment begins in October, 2013.  You will be able to purchase insurance either in person, through the mail, by phone or on a website.

You cannot be turned down for health insurance, even if you are currently being treated for a serious illness such as cancer or diabetes.  You will no longer be required to have a medical review prior to approval.  People who have been unable to purchase an individual insurance policy in the past will now become eligible.

You may be able to get financial assistance to pay for your insurance and your out-of-pocket expenses.  The amount of assistance you get will depend on your income.  Kaiser gave the example that a single person earning less than $45,000 a year will be eligible for some financial aid.  This will be a tremendous help to a lot of single people and young families who are currently uninsured.  It could also help Baby Boomer couples when one of them is old enough for Medicare and their spouse is not.  If the older spouse is retired and their family income is low, they will be able to get financial assistance to help with the cost of health insurance for the younger spouse.  Since I have known several Baby Boomer couples who were faced with this situation, this could literally be a life-saver.

The Affordable Care Act requires four levels of coverage.  These have been called Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.  Bronze plans will have the lowest premiums and the highest co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses.  At the other end of the spectrum, Platinum plans will have the highest premiums and the lowest co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses.  These four options will give everyone the choice that best meets their budget and healthcare needs.  Regardless of cost, all of the policies will have the same basic benefits such as a free annual physicals and certain diagnostic tests.

In addition to the plans mentioned above, there is also a catastrophic plan option.  This is only available for young adults under the age of 30, as well as families and older individuals who can show that they are not covered under an employer provided plan or an affordable individual plan.  The catastrophic plans will have even lower premiums and higher co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses than the Bronze plan mentioned above.  They will also provide the same basic benefits as the other plans, such as a free annual physical and preventative tests.  It's main purpose is to make it possible for everyone to have a comprehensive annual physical so that illnesses are caught early, when they can be treated most economically.  The catastrophic plan will also provide protection against crippling medical bills in the event of an emergency or serious illness.

If you currently have health insurance, over the next few months your carrier will be providing you with information about the changes you can expect to your policy.  Each company will have their own versions of the various plans for their customers to review. For those of you who do not currently have health insurance, you will find additional information in the coming months on this blog, as it becomes available.

Planning for Retirement

If you want more information to help you with your retirement plans, you may be interested in reading some of the articles listed in the index links shown below.  Click on the category that interests you and you will discover an introduction and a links to related articles on each topic:

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Baby Boomers

You are reading from the blog:

Photo of stethoscope courtesy of