Texas primary care and the Affordable Care Act : implications for the primary care physician workforce
Primary care physicians are the first point of contact for patients entering the formal health care system. A shortage of primary care physicians in the United States has left approximately 60 million people without adequate access to a physician, resulting in lowered health care outcomes and excess stress on the health care safety net. Texas has one of the most severe shortages of primary care physicians with more than 5.7 million people living in rural and urban areas considered to be underserved. The state’s rapid population growth, as well as the wide geographic distribution of its residents, makes it particularly vulnerable to health care disparities. Although there is a decisive need, factors like high medical school debt and low anticipated salaries are leading more students to specialize instead of pursue a primary care career. A variety of solutions have been proposed to address this problem including: rethinking the physician reimbursement structure; expanding graduate medical education opportunities for primary care students; and incentivizing primary care with loan repayment. In 2014, the new insurance exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will begin operating, giving millions more Texans access to health insurance. The current Texas primary care physician workforce shortage will be exacerbated once the major components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are fully enacted; therefore, state policymakers must take steps to increase Texas’ primary care physician workforce by making primary care a more attractive and accessible career path for medical students.