If the state of Texas ever expands Medicaid, or less likely does something on its own to improve access to health care for its residents, it’s going to have to confront a different problem: A persistent shortage of doctors and nurses.
As of May 2011, the demand for nurses in Texas exceeded the supply by 22,000. Members of the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition, which includes about 100 medical centers and hospitals statewide, warned in a letter that “without stable, continued funding for nursing education, this gap will widen to 70,000″ by 2020.
Physicians are hardly faring better. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimated that there was already a shortage of 7,400 physicians nationwide in 2008, and fully implemented health care reform would widen that shortage to more than 130,000 physicians by 2025.
Texas has a ratio of 165 doctors for every 100,000 residents. That falls far below the national average of 220 physicians for every 100,000 people, earning Texas the ranking of 42nd in the nation, he said.
Texas legislators reduced support for nursing education by $17 million, or 36 percent, during in 2011.
Physician students also have fallen victim to a tightening budget.
Never let it be said that there’s a problem our Legislature can’t make worse by cutting funding for it. That letter from the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition can be found here. This problem isn’t limited to Texas, either. Part of the problem with doctors is specialization – as the story notes, there’s plenty of plastic surgeons and dermatologists, but far too few general practitioners, who tend to make a lot less money than their peers. It’s a complex problem and it’s going to take some creative thinking to tackle it.