Study shows primary care appointment availability changes after the ACA August 31, 2017
Many in the healthcare field predicted that when more people gained health care coverage, the demand for primary care appointments would increase significantly as more people had the resources available to be able to visit a doctor for basic preventative care. This thought process also contributed to the overall concern that there were not enough primary care physicians to accommodate all of the new patients who would be covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, a study published in April 2017 shows some surprising results.
JAMA Internal Medicine published “Changes in Primary Care Access Between 2012 and 2016 for New Patients With Medicaid and Private Coverage,” which described a study conducted in 2012-2013 and then again in 2016 to determine how the ACA impacted primary care appointment availability. Primary care practices in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas were studied.
The report describes appointment availability increasing for Medicaid patients overall between 2012 and 2016, although the specific numbers differ by state. Appointment availability for patients with private insurance essentially remained steady, with some states seeing increases and some decreases. Wait times for appointments increased somewhat for Medicaid patients as well as for those patients with private insurance.
A number of factors may come into play in regard to the appointment availability results. Medicaid incentives may have encouraged more primary care physicians to accept Medicaid patients. In addition, better practice management on the providers’ part may have helped them become more efficient and able to see more patients.
The report states that factors such as data sharing, in the form of collaborative electronic health records (EHRs) for example, may also have contributed to the primary care providers’ ability to expand their capacity and provide more appointment availability.
As the JAMA report states, the appointment availability results found in the study “should ease concerns that the Affordable Care Act would exacerbate the primary care shortage.”