Effingham has long been known as a regional health care hub. But a local physician says the impending influx of newly insured people might not keep the area from having to endure a shortage of physicians.
"There's always been a concern," said Dr. David Kowalski. "But Effingham has been very blessed over the years."
Kowalski, who practices out of Marshall Clinic in Effingham, said the quality of area health care has been fueled by the triad of a strong hospital, patients who can pay, and a wide variety of physicians, some of whom have been in the area for decades.
"That triangle has served this area very well," Kowalski said.
Nationwide, the shortage of doctors is expected to increase from 40,000 to 65,000 in the next 10 years. The increased shortage is attributed to the influx of people receiving health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
"It's a huge concern," said Kowalski, who is also president of the St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital Medical Executive Committee. "With 32 million people (nationwide) becoming eligible for insurance, the situation will get even worse."
While community leaders have long tried to recruit prospective physicians with a vision of Effingham as a small, family-friendly community, Kowalski said the reality is a bit different.
"It's not easy to recruit to rural areas across the board," he said. "Most doctors seem to prefer living in urban areas. I am concerned we will be not be able to maintain the supply of excellent physicians in Effingham that we currently have."
Kowalski said one problem is that the 1997 Balanced Budget Act froze the number of medical residencies funded through the Medicare program.
"Since 1997, we have 50 million more people in the United States, but we have not increased the number of residency opportunities," he said.
Kowalski said both the American Medical Association and Illinois State Medical Society are lobbying for an amendment to the act that would fund more residency opportunities. Meanwhile, he said an increase in the level of mid-level medical professionals is working to cover an ever greater shortage of full-fledged doctors.