Report: Obamacare Patients Likely To Struggle To Find Doctors

J.D. Tuccille|Dec. 5, 2012 6:01 pm

The big selling point of the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” to you and I — has been the extension of health-plan coverage to uninsured Americans. The implicit promise was that extending coverage would extend actual care. But yet another study suggests that these new medical customers, many of whom would be accommodated by expanding Medicaid, may not be able to find physicians willing to take them on.

Published October 12 in the American Journal of Medical Quality, the study with the patience-trying title, “Characteristics of Primary Care Safety-Net Providers and Their Quality Improvement Attitudes and Activities: Results of a National Survey of Physician Professionalism” surveyed “safety-net” physicians, so-called because they handle the bulk of uninsured and Medicaid patients, What the authors found is that these health-care providers are already reaching their limits even before expansion takes place.

The full text of the report is behind a paid firewall, but a handy press releaseabout the study from Massachusetts General Hospital hits the high points:

The authors note that the concentration of care for Medicaid and uninsured patients among a limited number of safety-net physicians and the fact that 28 and 39 percent, respectively, of those physicians are not accepting new Medicaid and uninsured patients indicate that the current health care safety net may have reached its capacity. In addition, they note, safety-net physicians’ interest in quality improvement and attention to health care disparities suggests that reported differences in the quality of care they provide probably reflect limited resources available to their practices or barriers to care within the local communities.

The authors of the study draw logical inferences for the expansion of demand for safety-net physicians — and even for insured patients who may already be running into difficulties finding doctors as some physicians become demoralized and even cut back or leave the field.

“This study raises very serious concerns about the willingness and ability of primary care providers to cope with the increased demand for services that will result from the ACA,” says Eric G. Campbell, PhD, of the Mongan Institute, senior author of the report to be published in the American Journal of Medical Quality. “Even with insurance, it appears that many patients may find it challenging to find a physician to provide them with primary care services.”

It’s possible that alternative providers, such as nurse practitioners could help fill in the gap, especially on day-to-day care. But state-level licensing laws have stood in the way of exactly that for decades. Reports

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