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Meanwhile, overall demand for primary care will be increasing as more people can afford it under the Affordable Care Act, said Joanne Spetz, a health care policy professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Atul Grover, chief of public policy for the American Association of Medical Colleges, said the nation is facing a tough time recruiting for primary care as well as other specialties that treat Medicare patients, such as oncologists.
When he decided to become a primary care doctor in the 1990s, it was because of a widespread belief that health maintenance organizations were going to be hiring all the doctors.
He said they wanted primary care doctors to emphasize wellness and prevention. Now, many graduates are moving into specialties that do procedures, such as surgery, because Medicare pays more for them than plain-old office visits.
Also, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 capped the number of residencies paid by Medicare, so there is no quick way to increase the numbers of doctors in general, let alone in rural areas, he said.
“An entire year’s worth of doctor production is needed to deal with the (rural-area) shortage just today,” he said.
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