Next generation of doctors sees gloomy future

WASHINGTON Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:49pm EDT

Medical students show their support for U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare law during the first day of legal arguments over the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court in Washington March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Medical students show their support for U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare law during the first day of legal arguments over the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court in Washington March 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of young doctors feel pessimistic about the future of the U.S. healthcare system, with the new healthcare law cited as the main reason, according to a survey released to Reuters on Wednesday.

Nearly half of the 500 doctors surveyed think the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, will have a negative effect on their practices, compared with 23 percent who think it will be positive.

Of the 57 percent of young doctors who are pessimistic, 34 percent cite the new healthcare law or regulations as the reason for pessimism. Other reasons include declining reimbursement for doctors and a decrease in incomes.

Twenty-one percent of the doctors, who were all under the age of 40, said they were neutral about the future of U.S. healthcare, while 22 percent were optimistic. The reasons for optimism included better patient care and that the United States was moving in the right direction with its healthcare system.

The survey was commissioned by The Physicians Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes the work of practicing doctors through grants, research and policy impact studies.

It was founded in 2003 as part of a settlement in an anti-racketeering lawsuit brought by physicians and medical societies against health insurers. The insurers agreed to provide seed money to start the organization.

The survey may add fuel to opponents of the healthcare law, who denounce it as an unwarranted government intrusion. Republican presidential candidates have promised to repeal the law if one of them wins the White House in the November election.

The Supreme Court is also weighing whether Congress overstepped its authority to regulate commerce in approving the law, which mandates that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine.

Lou Goodman, president of the Foundation, said the medical profession is still attractive and people are applying in record numbers to medical schools.

"But what we're seeing is that once they get out, it's not what they expected," he said. "Young doctors are finding upheaval and transition in the way the healthcare system is structured right now ... And when our doctors are dissatisfied, we've got a problem with the system."

Goodman said some doctors are worried about the Affordable Care Act and other healthcare changes because they will bring economic considerations into the decisions that doctors make.

One physician quoted in the survey said: "The changes that are being made are not made with the patient in mind, but with the 'bottom line' economically in mind. Not once is the patient mentioned in all these changes."

The doctors were randomly selected in December 2011 from an online database by Medical Marketing Research, which conducted the survey online. Half of physicians were in primary care, 175 were specialists in offices and 75 were specialists in hospitals.

(Editing by Andre Grenon)

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