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Shortage of Cardiothoracic Surgeons Likely

Armen Hareyan's picture

Cardiothoracic Surgeons

More than half of U.S. heart and lung surgeons plan to retire in the next 10 to 13 years, and about one-third of residency positions for cardiothoracic surgeons have remained unfilled for the last three years, according to speakers at a Capitol Hill briefing on Monday sponsored by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, CQ HealthBeat reports. At the briefing, speakers said that, according to the American Medical Association, the number of thoracic surgeons decreased by 70 between 1995 and 2004, as the number of physicians in 34 other medical specialties increased.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a former cardiac surgeon who retired because of arthritis in his neck and hands, said, "This truly is a demographic disaster," adding, "Many people are going to die because they have medical complications and don't have access to care." Boustany said, "Just to have your stent done you may have to travel 500 miles to a major academic center."

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Douglas Mathisen, a professor of thoracic surgery at Harvard Medical School, said, "The government has reduced reimbursement rates for coronary artery bypass surgery by nearly 50% since 1987," adding, "Faced with major sacrifices and now modest rewards, young doctors are simply choosing other fields that offer shorter training and greater rewards" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 6/18).

Stephen Lahey, chief of the cardiovascular surgery division at Maimonides Medical Center in New York, said, "This is the perfect storm that's happening, and the decisions we make today are really going to have an impact 10 years from now."

Congressional Action Sought

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has asked Congress to block a 10% reduction in Medicare physician reimbursements scheduled for next year and to provide loan forgiveness for medical students who specialize in cardiothoracic surgery. Boustany said that he has worked with House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Chair Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) to include a loan forgiveness provision in the fiscal year 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (Edney, CongressDaily, 6/18).

Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) has introduced a bill (S 1066) that would defer loan payments for all medical students until after their residencies (CQ HealthBeat, 6/18).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.