Health Care Reform May Create New Gaps in Medical Services

A recent study conducted at the University of Memphis looked at the effect of federal health care reform on residents of the state. Approximately 558,044 Tennesseans age 65 and under will benefit from new health care insurance coverage as a consequence of the federal reform measures.

These individuals will either qualify to buy insurance through the state-run health care exchange, will remain on their parents’ coverage through age 26, or will be covered by TennCare (the state’s Medicaid program.)

The effect of this increased level of insurance cover will cut the number of uninsured state residents by 50 percent, and will reduce state debt for uncompensated medical care by approximately $2.3 billion.

Some critics, are concerned, however, about the extent to which the newly insured will place a strain on the state’s medical care facilities. A rush on doctor’s services and available infrastructure could actually create a new barrier to available care.

Currently 44 of the state’s 95 counties are not adequately staffed by primary care physicians. An additional 194 doctors would be required to remedy that deficiency alone, which is particularly prevalent in rural areas where newly graduated physicians do not tend to gravitate.

The Tennessee study reveals the conundrum faced by many states as they attempt to move toward full implementation of the federal reform. Only 12-14 states have actually taken concrete measures toward complying with the provisions of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The remainder of the states are either progressing slowly or openly waiting for the outcome of both the Supreme Court review of the Affordable Care Act in March, and the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

While health care reform may well extend the degree of insurance coverage for the 50 million Americans currently living with no protection whatsoever, there is serious concern that the health care system in the U.S. will not be able to appropriately handle the resulting load of new patients.