Five years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and 18 months after the beginning of the health insurance exchange, primary care physicians are wondering: Where is the influx of new patients?
Five years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, and 18 months after the startup of the health insurance exchanges, primary care physicians (PCPs) may be asking themselves, “Where are all the new patients?”
A new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and healthcare technology company athenahealth finds that, despite 10 million Americans gaining health insurance coverage since the start of 2014, the proportion of new patient visits to PCPs grew from 22.6% in 2013 to 22.9% in 2014-a relative increase of 1.3%. Pediatricians and OB-GYNs saw similarly small increases in their numbers of new patient visits.
The authors offer several possible explanations for the relative dearth of new patient visits, including that some of the newly-insured may already have had a relationship with a PCP and so would not be counted as new patients, or simply may not have needed to see a doctor.
Other findings of the study:
The relative dearth of new patients following expansion of access to insurance has historical precedents. An article on the website Vox.com cites a study by the Massachusetts Medical Society showing no clear pattern in access to care after that state adopted its healthcare legislation in 2006.
The article also quotes news accounts from the time of Medicare’s launch in 1966 showing that program did not disrupt access to care. “The transition to Medicare…was as uneventful as it was historic,” reads an article from the Washington Post. “The influx of care-carrying Medicare patients was a trickle, not the storm that had been predicted by some.”