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Why There Is Shortage Of Primary Care Doctors In California

LOS ANGELES ( — More 100,000 people signed up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act the day after the election, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced Friday. That is the highest number since Open Enrollment began, she said.

In California, the number of people with health insurance has also jumped dramatically, but the number of primary care doctors has not.

Paul Song of Santa Monica, who is married to TV personality Lisa Ling, is a radiation oncologist. He said even he has a difficult time finding a good family physician.

Song, who has Anthem Blue Cross, which he said is the best insurance.

"So when I went to find a primary care doctor, I was shocked that none of them would take my insurance," Song said.

That is the same problem many other patients face these days.

Dr. Jay lee is the past president of the California Academy of Family Physicians and Chief Medical Officer of the Venice Family Clinic, where upwards of 500 patients visit per day.

One of the challenges Dr. Lee faces is recruiting enough primary care doctors to take care of those patients.

Almost four million more Californians now have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Not only has the number of family physicians not increased, it has actually decreased.

Lee said money is the primary reason for the shortage of family physicians.

"We are third from the bottom in the country in terms of Medi-Cal reimbursment," Lee explained. "There's been an increasing pay gap between the specialties and primary care."

Surgeons and specialists make more money. Because the average medical student graduates with $250,000 in debt, "it makes it very hard for them to look at that pay gap and to say: 'well, I can really make it,'" Lee said.

The California legislature recently allocated money to help pay off medical school debt for new doctors who choose to specialize in primary care.

But because training takes so long, it will be several years before we actually have more of them.

So for now, some doctors have stopped taking new patients while others charge an arm and a leg.

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