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Montana physician shortage on the horizon

March 23, 2008View for printing

Editor's note: Today is the first in a two-day series on Medicare payments and primary care physicians. Tomorrow: A closer look at the Medicare and physician payment system, and the debate over how to fix it.

Retiree Hugh van Swearingen hadn't seen a doctor in four years, but when he called a Helena clinic earlier this year to make an appointment, he was told, sorry, no room at the inn.

"They said they weren't taking new Medicare patients," says Van Swearingen, who is 70. "They apologized and referred me to four or five other physicians in town."

Van Swearingen found a physician who would see him. But his experience is a harbinger of things to come, many physicians say, as Montana - and the nation - face a looming shortage of "primary care" doctors, who are the front line of medical care.

By MIKE DENNISON - IR State Bureau

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