Noteworthy News

Insurance Expansion Won’t Hurt Access to Primary Care, Study Finds

Fears that significant increases in the numbers of Americans with health insurance as a result of Affordable Care Act policies would overwhelm the health care system and lead to access to care problems are unfounded, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report.

According to the new report “How Will the Affordable Care Act Affect the Use of Health Care Services?”, the country’s current supply of primary care providers is more than adequate to meet any demand for primary care services.  The study found that

… primary care providers will see, on average, 1.34 additional office visits per week, accounting for a 3.8 percent increase in visits nationally.  Hospital outpatient departments will see, on average, 1.2 to 11.0 additional visits per week, or an average increase of about 2.6 percent nationally.

The study concludes that

It is critical that the expansion of health insurance coverage leads to improved access to care for those who were previously uninsured and does not limit access for those who already have coverage. Our results suggest that the current supply of primary care physicians and physicians in most specialties is sufficient to ensure this result will hold.

Medical EquipmentWhile the study’s findings appear encouraging, its methodology involved examining the supply of physicians and the expected increase in the demand for care only on a state-by-state basis and did not attempt to differentiate supply and demand in individual areas within states.  Consequently, it did not specifically evaluate the prospects for access to care in medically underserved areas, including communities served by urban safety-net hospitals.  Such places have long had difficulty attracting primary care physicians (and specialists) because large numbers of their residents are uninsured or insured by Medicaid, which historically has paid physicians poorly for their services, thereby discouraging doctors from establishing practices in such communities.

For a closer look at the study’s methodology and findings, see the research brief here, on the Commonwealth Fund’s web site.


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