Doctors who specialize in performing heart and lung surgery are in short supply in Iowa, what one expert says is a growing, dangerous national trend. Doctor Mark Iannattoni, chair of the University of Iowa’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, says few new doctors are choosing to go into the field, in large part due to the Medicare crunch.
Dr. Iannattoni says “In Iowa itself, we don’t have any of our residents from the last four years staying in Iowa. They’ve all moved on to other states because we can’t attract them here because of salary issues due to reimbursement.” In all of Iowa, there are only about 35 specialized heart/lung surgeons and he says the ranks are beginning to dwindle with few replacements being trained.
Iannattoni says “It’s just a terrible situation for us right now and those of us who are in the field are very concerned that we’re not going to have an adequate workforce to take care of an aging population, with the Baby Boomers coming through and needing these specific treatments. It’s going to be a real strain on the system.”
In a worst case situation, he says Iowans will soon start seeing it become more difficult to get the potentially-lifesaving specialized medical attention they need. Iannattoni says “Right now, if somebody needs an emergency operation, we usually can get them in without any issues. The problem is people who need elective operations. We could wind up with a situation very similar to Canada where people have to wait three months for an elective coronary operation or have to wait six months for a pacemaker or a specific implantable device.”
He says Medicare has cut reimbursement rates for coronary artery bypass surgery to 35-percent of 1985 levels when adjusted for inflation, which he says has “demoralized” the specialty.