Ms. Griffin and the Staff at NBC Nightly News:

Thank you for reporting on the challenges that patients face to obtain access to a physician. Unfortunately, the broadcast missed an opportunity to focus on necessary systemic changes to address the true cause of the physician shortage. Rather than encouraging patients to take a shortsighted approach that may cause more harm than good (seeing lesser trained clinicians or using urgent clinics staffed mostly by nonphysicians), patients must demand action to increase access to physician-led care:

  1. Call on Congress to increase funding for physician training.

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the United States has one of the lowest numbers of physicians per capita among developed countries. In 2020, the U.S. ranked out of 25th out of 29 similar countries in the number of practicing physicians, with only 2.63 physicians for every 1000 people.[i] The only countries ranking worse than the U.S. were Japan, Korea, and Mexico.

This deficit is a result of government policies beginning in the 1980s and culminating in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which froze funding for the mandatory 1-3 years that physicians must complete before being licensed to practice medicine.[ii]  In 2021, Congress finally took preliminary steps to increase physician training funds, but more needs to be done to increase the number of practicing physicians.[iii]

  1. Demand that the federal government intervene to lift the burden on physicians, such as prior authorizations and other insurance headaches.

Physicians spend nearly 2 hours per day on documentation, with electronic health records requiring more time to complete.[iv]  In addition, physicians complete 45 prior authorizations per week, requiring 14 hours of physician and staff time.[v] Freeing up physicians from these administrative demands would immediately increase appointment availability for patients.

  1. Ask Congress to ensure that physician pay keeps up with the cost of practice ownership.

Physicians have not received a pay raise from Medicare in over 20 years, with physician pay lagging 30% below inflation growth since 2001.[vi] With increased costs to employ staff and pay other overhead costs, some physicians have been forced to stop accepting Medicare patients or to close their practices altogether. Patients can increase access by demanding that Congress pay physicians fairly.

Thank you again for addressing the physician shortage, and please consider reporting on these core causes and steps that patients can take. We would be delighted to be a resource for you in the future.

Sincerely,

Carmen Kavali MD
President, Physicians for Patient Protection