20% of Americans Already Live in Areas Short of Primary Care Clinicians

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may have increased insurance coverage for many, nearly 20 percent of Americans live in an area where there are too few primary care physicians to serve the community, according to a report from Stateline.

Federal guidelines recommend maximum population to physician ratios of 3,500 to 1 for primary care providers, according to the report. Because this ratio is exceeded for one in five Americans, the newly insured may not be able to reap the benefit of their health plans, especially if they face barriers to traveling far afield for care.

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While the federal government projects a physician increase of 7 percent by 2024, the Census Bureau estimates a 36 percent increase in Americans 65 and older in the same timeframe. Thus, the primary care physician shortage is only expected to increase, with a 45,000 physician shortage nationwide by 2020, according to an estimate from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

A primary care physician earns $3 million less over his or her career than a specialty physician, according to the report. In addition, AAMC surveys seem to indicate a primary deterrent to choosing primary care is the perceived work-life balance issues associated with the specialty — that new physicians value average-length work weeks as well as uninterrupted nights and weekends. This concern may also be partly because of the proportion of women currently training as physicians — 50 percent — who seem to prefer schedules compatible with family life, according to AAMC's director of federal affairs, Christine Mitchell.

States with between 25 and 29 percent of their populations living in an area with a primary care shortage include: Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota. In Alabama, Missouri and Wyoming, 30 or more percent of the population lives in an area of primary care shortage, New Mexico has more than 40 percent of its population with poor access to primary care, and more than 50 percent of people in both Louisiana and Mississippi don't have enough access to primary care physicians, according to Kaiser Health News.

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