With skyrocketing health care costs and more than 47 million Americans without health insurance, the topic of health care is poised to receive much attention in the 2008 Presidential elections.
The U.S. population’s continued expansion, combined with a growing population of aging Baby Boomers 65 and older, will dramatically increase demand for health care services over the next decade. This confluence of factors begs the question asked by many of my colleagues in the insurance industry: Will there be enough medical personnel to treat this growing number of patients?
A significant part of the health work force comes under the general label "allied health." In addition to physicians and nurses, much of the patient care taking place in medical centers today is provided by allied health personnel. These professionals work not only in hospitals but also in a wide range of other health care settings, such as community clinics and out-patient environments.
Although a high proportion of all treatment furnished in a hospital setting is accompanied by medical laboratory tests, medical technologists who perform these procedures are experiencing a personnel shortage that is just as severe - if not worse than - the national nursing shortage, according to the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (ASAHP). This same problem exists with many other health care professional disciplines, as well.
A significant component to this problem stems from not having enough qualified applicants to gain admission to medical-based programs at our colleges and universities. For the seventh consecutive year, enrollment capacity has not been reached in several allied health programs, according to a recent ASAHP study of 87 member institutions.
I was alarmed to learn that for classes beginning last year, programs in 17 of the 19 professions collectively experienced hundreds of unfilled classroom seats. And even when there are enough qualified applicants, many may not all be admitted due to the shortage of available faculty to teach them. Additionally, an aging workforce will only further deplete available professionals and teachers due to retirements.
It appears to be the perfect storm.
I am pleased to see the ASAHP is working with several national organizations in the development of legislation in Congress that can potentially produce a remedy for allied health work force problems.
If actions are not taken shortly to reverse these trends, the organization warns there may be an alarming increase in adverse events and patient care due to the inadequate supply of allied health caregivers.
Ensuring the availability of enough qualified health professionals for our population should be a sweeping concern for lawmakers at all levels of government, as there is much at stake in promptly finding the right solutions.
Gary Taffet, a principal at Reliance Insurance Group of Woodbridge, an employee benefits and property/casualty brokerage firm, has more than 15 years of experience in the insurance industry. He is a former Governor's chief of staff, and has served on various state and local insurance committees. He resides with his family in East Brunswick.