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Medical Students Favor ‘ObamaCare’- But Why?

by John Corker | Wright State University

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: September 27, 2011
obama health care Image courtesy of Flickr, SenChrisDodd

It’s now been a year and half since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was signed into law in March 2010.  In those eighteen months, it seems as though nearly every imaginable American demographic has weighed in with their thoughts on the relative merits of our new health care law.  And opinions vary widely.

Some state governments have sought to cripple the PPACA by challenging the constitutionality of the the individual mandate, the legislation’s lynchpin component; while others have already begun the process of planning and implementing the insurance exchanges called for by the law.  Likewise, the American Medical Association (AMA) – the largest and loudest voice for physicians in America – has come out in support of the spirit and potential impact of the PPACA, while a silent majority of unaffiliated physicians disagree.  And recent polls of the general population have come back split more or less down the middle between supporters and opponents of this controversial legislation.

Until this past week, however, one of our country’s most important demographics (at least as regards this issue) had yet to formally opine on the matter.  The future of the medical profession – our nation’s medical students – shared their thoughts in a recent study entitled, “Healthcare Reform and the Next Generation: United States Medical Student Attitudes toward the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” published by the Public Library of Science.

One thousand two-hundred and thirty-two medical students, from ten US medical schools, responded to a survey inquiring about their thoughts on the PPACA.  Overwhelming majorities agreed that the current US health care system is in need of reform (94.8%), and expressed support for the PPACA (80.1%).  Surprisingly, despite all of the national push-back against the far-reaching, “big-government” scope of the new health care law, 78.3% of students feel that its attempt at reform has not gone far enough; this figure representing both supporters and opponents of the legislation.  Most interestingly, however, only 53.9% of students indicated that they understand the major provisions of the PPACA, suggesting that some of the surveyed supporters’ opinions may be based more in conjecture than research and pragmatism.  Moreover, nearly half of respondents indicated that they were unsure as to whether the PPACA would meet it’s stated objectives of increasing quality and access in health care (47.7%) or containing rising health care costs (45.4%).  For the record, all results were fairly consistent across class years, stated political affiliations and future medical specialty choice.

Despite their overwhelming ideological support of the PPACA, when we dig a bit deeper, the results of this survey seem to indicate significant uncertainty among medical students about the components and potential impact of the law.  This uncertainty is echoed by the general population, as approximately 38% of Americans indicate that they are “not at all knowledgeable” about the legislation.

However, it is reasonable for one to expect that our nation’s physicians-in-training be at least more knowledgeable than the general public about a law that has the potential to fundamentally change the way their future profession is run.  Medical students are certainly very busy people, learning the basic sciences in only two years and spending two more mastering their application in the clinical setting.  But students and their medical schools should be making more of an effort to incorporate knowledge of policy and the business of medicine into their admittedly crowded curricula.  Likewise, both federal and state government should be making more of an effort to reach out specifically to our medical students.  They are the future physicians who will be shepherding the PPACA into implementation (assuming it survives the 2012 elections), and they need to understand how and why it is supposed to work.

It is encouraging that medical students have finally been given a chance to speak out on this historic and controversial piece of health care reform legislation.  However, it is clear that the future of medicine has much to learn before its voice is truly heard in the national conversation.

John Corker John Corker John Corker is the NextGen Journal Health Care Correspondent and a third-year student at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a host of the 'Radio Rounds' medical talk show (www.radiorounds.org).

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