America’s Doctor Shortage

Healthcare remains a major aspect of the American political scene, and this was evident to anyone who tuned in to watch the first Democratic debate. Nearly every candidate supports some form of universal healthcare – from a “medicare for all who want it” solution, to abolishing private health insurance all together, the Democratic candidates differ in their methods of guaranteeing every American the right to access quality healthcare. 

The pricetag of a universal healthcare scheme, however, will be outrageous – if the Federal government picks up the entire bill, it will cost 3.3 trillion dollars. Americans spend, on a per capita basis, roughly 10,000 dollars annually on healthcare – more than every other nation on the planet, with the exception of Switzerland. Yet, the quality of American healthcare does not reflect this price disparity – yes, American healthcare is good- America has an excellent breast cancer mortality rate – but on metrics such as rates of medical errors and disease burden, America lags behind. 

Some of this may be attributed to the prevalence of fast food and high fructose corn syrup in the American diet, along with the fact that only 23% of Americans get enough exercise. However, some of the costs of the American healthcare system can also be attributed to America’s relatively low (among developed countries) proportion of physicians in its population. America has only 2.6 doctors per 1000 people, compared to Germany’s 4.2 doctors per 1000 people, Austria’s 5.2 doctors per 1000 people, or the Netherlands’ 3.5 doctors per thousand people. While some countries, such as Japan, do have a lower proportion of doctors per capita than the United States, by in large, America has a shortage of doctors compared to other developed countries. As a result, the price of healthcare is high – given a low supply and high demand, price will always be high – this is basic economics.

Policies need to be implemented to remedy this shortage before America can ever hope to implement a universal healthcare system. For example, highly trained and competent foreign doctors face significant difficulty in obtaining a license to practice medicine upon arrival in the United States – they are required to take American medical exams and complete a 1-3 year residency in the United States. While the American government should obviously ensure that every doctor working in the United States is properly trained and educated, current restrictions make it difficult for doctors who come from even more demanding medical educational backgrounds (such as Israel or Japan) to practice in the United States. These restrictions should be relaxed for doctors coming from a certain set of countries (IE: those known to have excellent medical education programs and competent physicians), so foreign doctors can more easily practice medicine in the United States.

There are obviously innumerable ways that the United States healthcare system could be improved – such as allowing the Federal government to negotiate drug prices, or reducing the costly practice of defensive medicine – I go over some of these solutions in another article. Opening up the supply of doctors is another way to reduce cost, taking us one step further to guaranteeing every American the right to quality, free healthcare. 

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