By 2034, the U.S. will be facing a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians, predicts a new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). While that estimate dropped slightly from what the AAMC predicted in last year’s report, industry experts say that the looming dearth of doctors is still a cause for concern — and health insurers can help mitigate it.

“If we don’t address the shortage, over time more and more people won’t be able to get all the care that they need in a timely fashion. That’s the bottom line,” says Michael Dill, director of workforce studies at the AAMC. “There are already millions of Americans who face that problem, and it’s just going to grow if we don’t address the shortage.”

Not only is that an issue for the public health at large, but the looming doctor shortage also can pose a business risk for payers, points out Fred Bentley, a managing director at Avalere Health.

“If you’re an insurer, it’s a challenge because [it hampers] maintaining network adequacy — whether it’s following what’s required for Medicare Advantage or some other programs, or just if you’re offering a commercial network, you still want to offer a robust network,” Bentley tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT. A doctor shortage may also benefit some physicians in terms of being able to negotiate higher rates, he adds. “If you are in short supply, you are in the driver’s seat.”

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