The Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Doctors
Religion & Liberty Online

The Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Doctors

No, it’s not a Sherlock Holmes book. It’s reality: American is losing doctors.

When most of us have a medical concern, our first “line of defense” is the family physician: that person who checks our blood pressure, keeps on eye on our weight, looks in our ears and our throat for infections, and does our annual physicals. And it’s these doctors that are becoming scarce.

In American Spectator, Acton Research Fellow Jonathan Witt takes a look at this issue.

My brother-in-law Bruce Woodall, a physician who has worked stateside and in the developing world, gave me another way to understand this response. Those who go into family medicine, he said, often have an independent and entrepreneurial streak. They have visions of owning a family practice one day and aren’t attracted to the idea of simply working for the government. But increasingly, that’s what family medicine in the United States amounts to. The result is that an increasing number of physicians who can leave, do.

Self-interested alarm is a rational response to this trend, since we already face a physician shortage, but so too is moral outrage on behalf of physicians. Medical students work extraordinarily hard for years, risking enormous personal and financial capital to become professional healers. How has the political establishment responded to this courage, perseverance, and sacrifice? By subjecting the working lives of doctors to the regulatory whims of political insiders and bureaucrats.

Witt says we are facing some hard economic truths that the creators of Obamacare seemed to have overlooked when coming up with their vast scheme of health-care-for-all:

…the architects of Obamacare also included provisions in the act to push all of those stingy employers to give their workers more expansive and expensive healthcare plans than before.

But if that economic logic made sense, it would follow that legislators should also pass a federal edict forbidding private employers from cutting employee salaries, while simultaneously pushing them to give all their workers a nice fat pay raise. The reason none of these strategies would effectively promote the common good stems from a stubborn truth of economics: artificially propping up or boosting worker compensation by government edict leaves businesses unable to afford as many workers. The result is unemployment.

Some are further concerned that interstate competition would debase the entire health insurance industry, but think about other industries. Free competition has led to continued improvements in cell phone technology, automobile rental, restaurant service, and on and on the list could go. It’s the difference between the service you get from Apple or Chick-fil-A versus the take-a-number bureaucratic shuffle you experience at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The first two are sharpened by competition, the latter shielded from it.

Lack of competition leads to lack of quality and value, Witt says…and less doctors. Obamacare may be a vision of health care for all, but who’s going to be listening on the other end of the stethoscope? Do we want compassionate and virtuous doctors caring for us, or bureaucratic wonks loaded down with paperwork and regulations?

Read “Doctors Disappear: the Unaffordable Health Act comes through” at American Spectator.


Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.