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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Physician Numbers Up Under Obamacare

President Donald Trump said that “many of our best and brightest are leaving the medical profession entirely because of Obamacare.” But the number of physicians has increased since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law.

“We have anecdotes of physicians thinking about leaving the profession for a variety of reasons, but we see no significant number leaving because of the Affordable Care Act,” said Atul Grover, executive vice president at the Association of American Medical Colleges, in an email to FactCheck.org.

Trump’s latest attack on the health care law came during a “Make America Great Again Rally” in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 20.

Trump, March 20: Many of our best and brightest are leaving the medical profession entirely because of Obamacare. Obamacare has been a complete and total catastrophe, and it’s getting worse and worse by the day. And yet you watch the fake media, the fake news and they try to build it up. It’s a disaster, fellas. It’s a disaster.

Actually, the total number of active physicians has increased nearly 8 percent under the health care law, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The number jumped from 799,501 when the ACA became law in 2010, to 860,939 in 2015, the most recent data available. The increase is similar to the 9 percent jump over the previous five-year period, from 2005 to 2010, according to figures provided to us by the AAMC.

Since 2010, the number of physicians in internal medicine or providing family and general practice care — the two largest specialties — also has increased more than 4 percent.

Certainly, not all physicians are happy with the health care law. A 2016 survey by the Physicians Foundation and Merritt Hawkins, a consulting firm on physician staffing, found that 48.3 percent of physicians who responded gave the ACA a grade of D or F. A small percentage gave the law an A, and 48.5 percent gave it a B or C.

But Grover said that “recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges indicate that physicians are, in fact, retiring two years later than they had previously.”

He added that “there is also no evidence of a declining interest in medicine since the ACA took effect.” We pointed that out last month when Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that “Obamacare is discouraging people from going to medical school.” In fact, medical school applicants and enrollees are at an all-time high.

As we reported in that story, Grover’s organization has projected a physician shortfall in coming years, due primarily to an aging population. The AAMC set a goal of increasing first-year medical student enrollment by 30 percent by 2015-2016 (from the 2002-2003 level) to address this issue, and it nearly hit that mark on schedule. First-year enrollment is expected to reach the AAMC’s goal by 2017-2018, according to the organization’s 2015 enrollment report.

“The real challenge the physician workforce faces,” Grover said, “is the cap on federal support for graduate medical education established by Congress 20 years ago. As a result, there are not enough residency positions to fill demand.”

We requested supporting evidence for the president’s claim from the White House, but we haven’t yet received a response. We will update this item if we do.

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“Many of our best and brightest are leaving the medical profession entirely because of Obamacare.”
Donald Trump
President of the United States

Rally in Louisville, Kentucky
Monday, March 20, 2017