3. Government incentives to enter the most needed fields of medicine
Programs already exist that pay off loans for doctors who work a certain number of years in rural areas. Programs could also reimburse some measure of tuition or pay off some measure of loans for doctors to enter the fields in high demand that are not presently attracting as many doctors. There would be more primary care physicians available, helping people have greater availability. Loan payoffs could be tied to working in a given field as well as working in geographic or economic areas that need more doctors. If those programs already exist, then perhaps I am showing my ignorance. As it stands, new doctors are focusing on fields that earn them more money, and some further incentive to encourage more people to work in medicine as the field continues to have an increasing demand in years to come. I freely admit I am fairly ignorant on how these programs presently work to encourage doctors to work in rural areas. If they already include the requirement to go into certain fields, then good for them.
4. Remove the requirement that students must have an undergraduate degree to enter medical school
Once upon a time, students could go to veterinary school without completing a bachelor's degree. I know my former vet, now retired, did just that about fifty years ago. As it stands, for a person to become a doctor, they have to go through eight years of study and four years of residency to be a doctor free to practice on their own. If we removed the requirement for students finish the bachelor's program first, and instead required something more like an associate's in pre-med that involved all the necessary sciences, we could at least remove some of the time spent becoming a doctor. I know the enormous commitment to become a doctor has deterred many of my very intelligent friends from pursuing it, even some who planned all through their childhood to become one. If we shorten the path, we might hope to get more doctors.
5. Final Thoughts
In addition to these ideas, I also completely agree with Lawyer Mama that the system already pays for people's care, whether we like it or not. One commenter, SarcastaMom, on her blog post about universal health care, suggested we take the large sums spent on expensive care after the fact and invest it in more preventative care and education. I agree, but we need to come up with a good way to accomplish that shift in spending. Making it part of Medicaid and Medicare might make some sense, but not if it becomes "add-on" instead of "in-lieu-of" spending. My suggestion would be to require those on Medicaid to have an annual physical, which would help in curtailing major illnesses growing unchecked before they turn into something serious. Private insurance could also pay for an annual physical without regard to deductible as a further encouragement for people to get a better idea of how their general health is doing.
Doctors are already swamped in any office I visit, but with these government incentives, the cost of medical care to the consumer could and would go down and the availability would go up. These programs would also avoid the government taking over the role of insurance companies, but instead help the actual cost of medical care go down by removing the government-related costs from the equation. That's my two cents on the matter. Now I'd love to hear other ideas.