Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Simple policy change could solve U. S. physician shortages in 25 states

Date:
January 22, 2013
Source:
University of Virginia
Summary:
According to a new study, half of the 50 states could end their primary care physician shortages, and save billions annually in health care costs, by a simple policy change: equalizing the licensure requirements for foreign-educated physicians and U.S.-educated physicians.

According to a new University of Virginia study, half of the 50 states could end their primary care physician shortages, and save billions annually in health care costs, by a simple policy change: equalizing the licensure requirements for foreign-educated physicians and U.S.-educated physicians.

More than a quarter of physicians practicing today received their medical education outside of the U.S., and this dependence on foreign-trained physicians is poised to grow with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and an aging population, notes the new study, "Doctors With Borders: Occupational Licensing as an Implicit Barrier to High Skill Migration," by U.Va. politics professors David Leblang and Sonal Pandya, and doctoral student Brenton Peterson.

All but a few states require graduates of non-U.S. medical schools to complete longer post-graduate residency training -- generally one to two years longer -- than graduates of U.S. medical schools before being eligible for a state license to practice medicine.

Having a state license allows a new doctor to practice without supervision, opening the door to much higher earning potential. Prior research has found that maximizing expected earnings is the No. 1 determinant of location for international migration.

The additional requirements purportedly ensure that international medical graduates meet the same standards as American-trained doctors. But the study authors are skeptical of this rationale for a number of reasons.

First, in order to even be eligible to apply for residency training in the U.S., international medical graduates must demonstrate that their qualifications are equivalent to U.S. medical graduates by passing three sections of the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam.

The test is not easy; in 2008, only 42.6 percent of international medical graduates passed all three components of the test on their first try, and only 73 percent of those who passed all necessary exams eventually found a residency -- and getting a residency match is effectively an additional level of quality screening. This screening is effective, the authors note: post-licensure, according to other studies, there are few differences between U.S. and international medical graduates in patient health outcomes, or in the frequency of disciplinary actions by state medical boards.

The history of additional residency requirements suggests they were created as a barrier to entry, Pandya said. Historically, states frequently prohibited non-citizens from obtaining medical licenses, regardless of where they were educated, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this practice unconstitutional in the 1970s. Additional residency requirements for international medical graduates blossomed in the immediate wake of that ruling, suggesting the policies were created as a replacement for the outlawed citizenship restrictions.

Consistent with the hypothesis that state medical boards may be captured by physicians acting to pad their own bottom line, the study finds that states with self-financing medical boards (indicative of less public accountability than state-financed medical boards, the authors assert) are more likely to impose lengthier residency requirements for international medical graduates.

States that impose lengthier training requirements for international medical graduates reduce the expected returns to medical training, and not surprisingly, these states receive fewer migrant physicians. As further evidence of barriers to entry, jurisdictions with more onerous requirements have higher physician salaries and poorer quality medical service.

As of 2009, Pandya said, the five states with the worst physician shortages per million residents are New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and North Dakota, four of which require international medical graduates to complete three years of residency training versus one year for U.S. medical school graduates. The exception is New Mexico, which requires two years for both domestic and international graduates.

Lowering barriers to international medical graduates, Pandya said, is a particularly apt solution to address U.S. physician shortages -- a problem in much of the U.S., especially in primary care -- because those graduates are more likely than U.S.-trained medical graduates to become general practitioners, and more likely to work in localities suffering from physician shortages.

Using Department of Homeland Security records of the number of international medical graduates (those self-identifying as doctors) entering each state annually, the study authors modeled the expected physician migration if state residency requirements were equalized for U.S.- and foreign-educated physicians over the six-year period from 2004 to 2009.

The modeling found that 25 states would gain enough physicians to end their shortages. Physician gains vary widely from state to state, the study estimates. Large states would be the biggest gainers, with California, New York and Illinois gaining an estimated 3,321, 2,816 and 1,030 foreign-trained physicians, respectively, over six years. In contrast, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana would each gain fewer than two physicians. The expected increase in foreign physicians into a state correlates highly with the degree of physician shortage it faces.

This policy change would also generate sizable savings in health care costs, the authors estimate.

They calculated expected state health care cost savings based on existing estimates of the savings associated with reducing primary care physician shortages -- which reduce the number of preventable hospitalizations. The average state, they found, would see an approximately $139 million decline in annual health care costs through fewer hospital visits alone.

State-by-state estimates of annual cost reductions range from $615,669 for Wyoming to $1.28 billion for California. Nationwide, reduced hospital visits would have saved $6.23 billion annually, or $37.4 billion over six years, if states had eliminated their additional residency requirements from 2005-10.

The cost savings estimate is conservative, the authors note, because hospitalization is only one of several ways in which greater access to primary care physicians should lower health care costs. The estimate omits the effect of additional specialist physicians altogether, omits the wage-lowering effects of physician migration and ignores the value of better health in terms of economic growth and life-years gained.

"Each of these omissions suggest that we vastly underestimate the economic impact of eliminating international medical graduates' residency requirements in this counterfactual policy simulation," the study notes.

"While equalizing residency requirements would not completely satisfy physician needs in half the states, it is a straightforward, practical policy change that can result in measurable improvements in social welfare," Pandya said.

The study is published in the new working paper series of U.Va.'s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, where Leblang is a professor of politics and public policy in addition to his posts as the J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at U.Va.'s Miller Center and chair of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics. The study is also currently under review at a peer-reviewed journal.

Link to working paper; http://www.batten.virginia.edu/content/2013-003-doctors-borders-occupational-licensing-implicit-barrier-high-skill-migration-david


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Virginia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Virginia. "Simple policy change could solve U. S. physician shortages in 25 states." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122142841.htm>.
University of Virginia. (2013, January 22). Simple policy change could solve U. S. physician shortages in 25 states. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122142841.htm
University of Virginia. "Simple policy change could solve U. S. physician shortages in 25 states." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122142841.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Two US Ebola Patients Leave Hospital Free of the Disease

Two US Ebola Patients Leave Hospital Free of the Disease

AFP (Aug. 21, 2014) Two American missionaries who were sickened with Ebola while working in Liberia and were treated with an experimental drug are doing better and have left the hospital, doctors say on August 21, 2014. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream

Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream

AP (Aug. 21, 2014) Contains graphic content. He's only 17. But Johntrell Bowles has wanted to be a doctor from a young age, despite the odds against him. He was recently the youngest participant in a cadaver program at the Indiana University NW medical school. (Aug. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
American Ebola Patients Released: What Cured Them?

American Ebola Patients Released: What Cured Them?

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) It's unclear whether the American Ebola patients' recoveries can be attributed to an experimental drug or early detection and good medical care. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins