Physicians, Clinicians Weigh in on Health Reform and Legislation

Doctors gathering at the US Capitol

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Healthcare reform and the fate of the Affordable Care Act are hotly debated topics in Washington and across the country. Ever since the original ACA, also known as Obamacare, was passed in 2010, many healthcare professionals have felt left out of the discussion, even though they practice medicine and provide medical treatment on the front lines each day, and see the impact of various government policies on patient lives on an ongoing basis.

What Do Doctors Think About Healthcare Policy Reform?

If healthcare professionals were to be in charge of health reform, how would they write the policy? What type of system do healthcare professionals think would be most effective and productive in the United States? It's difficult to survey health professionals on the topic in a highly scientific way, but several surveys show that, much like the general population of the country, health professionals are also split on what they feel would be the best policies to improve the nation's healthcare system.

One point most healthcare professionals seem to agree upon is that the Graham-Cassidy bill—which was dropped in September 2017 without ever coming to a vote—would have been a disaster for the nation's health system. Multiple major medical societies quickly released public statements denouncing the Graham-Cassidy bill, including the American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, and more.

One recent survey of nearly 900 health professionals, conducted by MDLinx, a website that provides continuing education and medical news to healthcare professionals, revealed that physicians and clinicians seem to favor a single payer system, which is a significant shift from recent years. In that survey, conducted in late September 2017, shortly after Bernie Sanders proposed his "Medicare for All" plan, 38 percent of respondents favored single payer over the ACA, which received support from 18 percent of respondents. However, the same amount of respondents, (38 percent) selected "something new," a completely different plan from the current system and proposed options, when asked what program they think would be best for health reform. Only 7 percent chose Graham-Cassidy as the best option overall.

What Do Healthcare Professionals Think About Single Payer?

Healthcare professionals expressed a fairly high level of support for a single payer system, despite the fact that they also believe it could result in lower pay for medical workers. Among respondents, 41 percent said they think a single payer system would result in earning "significantly less" money as health a professional, and another 26 percent think they would earn "slightly less" with a single payer system. Only 25 percent of respondents stated they would likely earn about the same amount, while 8 percent said they would expect to earn more money on a single payer system.

Additionally, respondents were asked about the impact of a single payer system on a variety of aspects of the healthcare system. Respondents indicated that a single payer system could make managing the business side of medical practice more manageable, but that it could also accelerate physician retirements, and perhaps even deter students from attending medical school or entering the field of medicine.

Responses from physicians and clinicians were also widely varied when asked about the potential time frame that a single payer system may be implemented in the United States. About 27 percent think there will never be a single payer system; 22 percent predict that a single payer system will be implemented within a mere five years; 35 percent predict a single payer system within ten years, and another 16 percent project the arrival of a single payer system within 25 years.

Single Payer and Patient Care

When asked how a single payer system would impact the quality of patient care, about 35 percent of health professionals feel that quality would improve, while about 45 percent feel that quality of care would decline with a single payer system. The remaining 18 percent of respondents felt that there would be no change in the quality of care provided under a single payer system.

Health professionals were almost evenly split about the impact of a single payer system on the efficiency of the healthcare system—46 percent feel that a single payer system would increase efficiency, and 40 percent feel that it would decrease efficiency. The remaining 14 percent feel that a single payer system would not change the level of efficiency in the healthcare system.

When asked how single payer would impact per capita spending on healthcare in the US, more than half (51 percent) said it would decrease, and 34 percent of respondents said that single payer would increase per capita spending.

A survey of more than 1,000 physicians conducted by Merritt Hawkins and Associates, a physician recruiting firm, found that 56 percent of respondents also support a single payer system, which was a drastic shift compared to a survey conducted by the firm in 2008, in which 58 percent opposed a single payer system, according to CNN.

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