According to the 2010 Physician Workforce Study by the Massachusetts Medical Society, practices across Massachusetts are having trouble recruiting doctors and as a result, patients are having trouble finding doctors to treat them. Berkshire County's situation was labeled "critical" by the report's authors. See Amanda Korman's article Study Finds Doctor Scarcity (Berkshire Eagle, 10/20/2010) for more information.
Is anyone at all surprised by this? I'm not. Who didn't see this coming? The physicians I know have said it is flat out impossible to attract good talent here because:
1) The patients are disproportionately elderly so the job of being a primary care physician here is much more stressful than places where the population age distribution is more normalized. Each patient session takes more time, often because there are a plethora of drug interactions to worry about from all of the prescription meds so many seniors depend upon. One doctor I know said, "You have no idea how nice it would be to have a day with 10 or 12 kids with strep throat come in. That's easy. Instead, more than half of the the patients I see are in their 70's and 80's who have 5 different things wrong with them, 4 of which are serious, and they are on 12 different drugs to manage their care, leading to all kinds of unforeseen interactions and complications. Every day is a grind."
2) The patients are disproportionately covered by some form of government health care plan, which means lower reimbursements and therefore lower incomes for the doctors versus states where a larger portion of the patients are covered by private health care insurance.
Hmmm ... let's see ... I can move to MA and earn less and work in a more stressful environment or I can move someplace else, get paid more, and have it easier ... Not too tough of a choice, is it?
What a mess we've found ourselves in. Our population is aging, young people are fleeing our state to seek opportunity elsewhere, and doctors don't want to practice here. Access to quality health care is a huge factor in any decision for a business to relocate to a region because businesses know this is something their employees care deeply about. We've created a situation in MA that is leading to doctor shortages and the costs of the government programs are drastically exceeding original projections, which means we will likely have to raise taxes and fees. At a time when we need to create real jobs here more than ever, we can now add, "Too tough to find good healthcare," and, "The government just keeps adding taxes and fees," to the list of reasons a business could use to justify not selecting MA as a new home.
Here's the bottom line ... while equal access to health care is a right that no one should be denied, being able to pay for that access is a personal responsibility, not the government's. Just look at what is going on in Europe right now after 40 or 50 years of socialized medicine. It is a disaster - governments from London to Berlin to Madrid are implementing "austerity measures" to save their economies because the spending commitments for entitlements are so out of hand.
We can't ignore the reality. No matter how much we wish it were different, it just isn't working.