Panel to fix doc shortage in limbo

A government panel that’s supposed to be addressing the growing shortage of physicians hasn’t done any work at all. In fact, since it was formed in 2010, it has actually been prohibited from meeting and discussing the issue.

What’s at stake: The shortage of physicians in the U.S is a crucial issue for hospitals because healthcare reform will greatly increase the number of insured individuals, creating more demand for physicians. If the supply does not increase accordingly, the cost of hiring a physician could soar.

The 2010 healthcare law created the independent nonpartisan panel. In September of that year, the comptroller general of the United States appointed 15 members, according to an article in the New York Times.

Many questions: Members of the panel say they want to address questions such as: How many more doctors are needed? What is the right mix of primary care physicians and specialists? Who will care for the millions of people gaining Medicaid coverage next year? Should states rewrite their laws to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to do more of the work done by doctors? Could pharmacists play a larger role in coordinating care and managing the use of medications? These questions—and many more—remain twisting in the wind.

Under the rules, a panel such as this cannot function until it receives funding from Congress or the administration. President Obama has requested $3 million for the panel in each of the last two years, but Republicans in Congress have balked. Republicans opposed the law in the first place. As a result, the panel has no staff, no budget, and no agenda.

“It’s like Waiting for Godot,” Dr. Richard D. Krugman, the dean of the University of Colorado Medical School and a member of the commission, told the Times. “We are sitting on a park bench, waiting for Godot. We’ll see if he shows up.”