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DeLong Smackdown Watch: Health Care Diplomat Says That Demand for Treatment Is Supply-Driven

Health Diplomat:

Health Diplomat: Will the ACA increase waiting lines for patients?: Brad DeLong has a question on ACA implementation:

What is your guess as to what will happen if the ACA works for access, works for quality, works for coverage--but the extra health-care workforce needed isn't there, and the lines start to get longer?…

[T]o answer the question directly: looking at the issue from a market-based standpoint, if his scenario comes true, I think the obvious answer would be that we need to graduate more doctors… there are loads of people who would like to be doctors, but can't get into medical school because there are not enough spots. The problem, in my opinion, is that a lot of healthcare seems supply-sensitive… the more available doctors or hospital beds, the more doctors will prescribe more treatment, despite the fact that a lot of this treatment has very little effect…. It's possible that lines will start to get longer as a result of the ACA's provisions on access, quality and coverage, but it's possible that demand-side is a less significant factor than we believe it will be….

A better solution, as my doctor friend Dylan notes, is to expand the Nurse Practitioner workforce: "Non-urgent medical screening can be handled by NPs, and physicians can see sicker patients. Many clinics already do this. There's no reason a doctor has to perform a screening pap-smear for example."