Is Health Law the Problem Underlying the Physician Shortage?

By Christopher Robertson

This week, the New York Times Sunday Review has an editorial arguing that the shortage of primary care physicians could be reduced if we drew more heavily upon other professions, including pharmacists and nurse practitioners, who may be able to provide care more efficiently.  The Affordable Care Act’s efforts to increase insurance coverage and eliminate cost-sharing for preventative care, will only exacerbate the shortage of primary care physicians.  More to the point, the editorial alleges that various state and federal laws create barriers to the sort of integration of healthcare professionals to address the shortage.

Those “scope of practice” laws were enacted to either protect consumers from incompetent healthcare or protect physicians from competition in the healthcare marketplace, or likely some mixture of both.  We know where mainstream physicians stand anyway.  In the words of the American Medical Association’s own newsletter,  “physicians [have] fought a blitz of scope-of-practice expansions by other health professionals on legislative, legal and regulatory fronts.”

The shortage of physicians is also a product of the number of young doctors that our medical schools are producing.  Although several new schools have launched in recent years, others are have actually shrunk due to budget cuts.

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About crobertson

Christopher Robertson is a professor at the James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona, and affiliated faculty with the Petrie Flom Center for Health Care Policy, Bioethics and Biotechnology at Harvard. Robertson also leads the Regulatory Science program, a partnership with the Arizona Health Sciences Center and the Critical Path Institute. Professor Robertson's research focuses on how the law can improve decisions by individuals and institutions -- attending to informational limits, conflicting interests, and cognitive biases, especially in the domain of healthcare. Blending legal, philosophical, and empirical methods, Robertson's work has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, New York University Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Emory Law Journal, and the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. He has received research support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and runs the Law and Behavior Research Lab at the University of Arizona. Robertson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he also served as a Petrie Flom fellow and lecturer. He earned a doctorate in Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also taught bioethics. For 2013-2014, he was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, and will visit at NYU School of Law in 2016-2017. Robertson's legal practice has focused on complex litigation involving medical and scientific disputes.