As I've written in many blog posts, policymakers seem all to be in agreement that primary care is essential to a high performing health care system. Capitol Hill is alive with the sounds of lawmakers promising to enact major reforms to increase the numbers of primary care physicians, a goal that is expressly mentioned in the budget resolution passed yesterday by Congress.
The problem, though, is so far the modest policies being considered don't seem to be equal to the stakes involved. In a new policy paper, ACP lays out in stark terms why primary care medicine is in crisis, and what needs to be done now to reverse it. The now must include substantial changes in Medicare payment policies to make primary care a viable career path compared to other specialties.
My concern is that the legislative process could result in minimalist policies that throw a few dollars primary care's way, but not enough to make a difference. Politicians might then think they've done something to solve the problem, while meanwhile, young physicians will continue to vote with their feet and pursue other specialty fields. Deeply disheartened established primary care physicians will wonder why the political system has once again left them behind. And patients will wonder why they can't find a primary care doctor.
Politicians need to hear from voters that saving primary care demands a wholesale revamping of federal policies, including paying primary care doctors what they are worth. Happy talk about primary care is well and good, but happy talk won't get more doctors to go into primary care or keep struggling primary care practices from closing their doors.
Today's question: Do you think politicians understand what is really needed to save primary care? If not, how do we get them to understand?