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Some Worried ACA Will Worsen Doctor Shortage

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – With two busy toddlers, the Zaragoza’s haven’t had a lot of time to think about the Affordable Care Act: they haven’t had to.

“We have insurance and we have all of our doctors set up that we go to for different things,” explained Melody Zaragoza.  But, even now, the North Texas mom knows getting an appointment with a primary care physician can be tough. “She [daughter] had a well check and we couldn’t make the appointment, so I called the doctor’s office to reschedule and it set us back two months.”

For many the months-long wait times for appointments have become the norm and all this is before the ACA extends coverage to possibly millions more Americans.

“The healthcare delivery system is changing,” says UT Dallas Healthcare Management professor John McCracken, PhD.  According to Dr. McCracken, research shows that health insurance increases a patient’s demand for services. “If, in fact, there is a surge in the number of insureds in this country, there is going to be a surge in the demand for primary care and the primary care physicians to meet that demand are simply not there.”

Experts say fewer medical students are pursuing careers in primary care — most are opting for specialty fields that pay higher salaries.  So, whether covered by private insurance or not — the way the nation accesses care could be changing.

“For us right now, we don’t have any problems,” said Gordon Garwood.  “We’ve got established doctors that we’ve been going to quite a long time.”

But, Gordon and his wife, Fiona, also suspect that the ACA will usher in changes that they can’t control. “A lot of doctors are getting to the point where they are getting out of the field completely or just going into a cash basis type thing,” he said.

Dr. McCracken believes the expanding the roles of Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners could help alleviate the shortage but, those changes take time and the nation has little of it.

Coverage extended under the ACA kicks in January 1.

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