Panel Participants Disagree on Existence of Physician Shortage
Health care experts at a panel convened by the Kaiser Family Foundation yesterday "disagreed strongly" on whether California has a doctor shortage, the Contra Costa Times reports. The most "disparate opinions" were expressed by representatives from the California Medical Association and the University of California-San Francisco's Center for the Health Professions. This year, both groups have released "widely differing data" on the physician shortage. The CMA study predicted a "coming shortage" and said that 43% of 2,307 surveyed doctors said they planned to either leave the state, retire early or change professions. CMA CEO Dr. Jack Lewin said that "difficult working conditions" are responsible for the shortage (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 10/25). He added that Medi-Cal reimbursements, which rank 47th lowest among Medicaid rates nationwide, and the state's seven million uninsured people make it difficult to recruit physicians from out of state (Coleman, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/25). The UCSF center's study does not show a decrease in the number of physicians, but instead finds that the number of physicians actually increased from 177 physicians per 100,000 Californians in 1994 to 190 physicians in early 2000. Edward O'Neil, the center's co-director, said that the growth includes primary care physicians as well as specialists. Lewin said, "I feel like I'm living in a different state than Dr. O'Neil."
Four of the five experts yesterday agreed that the state has a shortage of specialists. Sharon Levine, associate executive director of the Permanente Medical Group, said that specialists who are "most in demand," including cardiologists, gastroenterologists and urologists, are also the "most critical" in caring for the state's seniors. She added that the overall shortage is the result of a previous surplus of specialists "that influenced many medical students to pursue careers in primary care." Levine said California must begin to recruit doctors from outside the state because the state "trains far fewer doctors than it needs" (Contra Costa Times, 10/25).