Minnesota will soon be running low on doctors, study finds


As more and more people start heading to the doctor, Minnesota could soon run out of enough professionals to take care of them, a new study finds.

The study, by the Minnesota Hospital Association and the professional services company Towers Watson, found that as soon as a decade from now, the state won't have enough primary care doctors to handle the people who need their help. The study largely attributes the problem to the fact that there simply don't seem to be enough graduates to keep up with the retirement of older doctors. But when it comes to Minnesota's doctor shortage, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

See also: Abortions at record low in MN thanks to health care access, contraceptive mandate, NARAL says.

If you want to know the biggest reason behind the shortage of health care professionals, ignore doctors, because the issue actually goes far beyond that. As it turns out, says Roger Feldman, a health economics professor at the U of M, the cause of the new shortage can mostly be attributed to two things: new policies, and demographics.

Specifically, Feldman points to the Affordable Care Act, which, while certainly still controversial, has without question given more people insurance. In turn, Feldman says, that means more people need health services.

"But unfortunately, the market [of doctors] is slow to respond," Feldman says. That means there won't be enough doctors, nurses, and other health professionals to treat that glut of new patients.

Added to that, Feldman says, the Baby Boomer generation is finally reaching an age where they need more health services. Plus, they'll also soon become eligible for Medicare (if they're not already), meaning more will be insured. With so many more people needing service, you've suddenly got a problem, as the MHA study concluded. But what will it actually mean for patients?

"So it means that when we go to see the doctor, it could be a lot harder finding one," Feldman says. "And then when we do, our insurance company will have to pay higher fees. A lot of people won't see that directly, because they pay a co-payment, which is flat, but if the company uses a deductible or co-insurance payment, you'll notice an increase."

While that news may be not too good for patients, doctors will almost certainly love it. A recent study from the U of M suggests that due to the Affordable Care Act, doctors' wages will increase by as much as 30 percent by 2021. So while we may have to pay a little bit more or spend more time in the waiting room, those doctors will keep doing just fine.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.