Newly Insured May Face Doctor Shortages

When 2014 rolls around, almost 50 million Americans will be seeking health insurance coverage and primary care physicians.

That’s when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires virtually every American to have health insurance. The problem is they may not be able to find a primary care physician.

According to a study out of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), many primary care doctors don’t plan to accept new patients.

The MGH study builds on earlier research by the Institute of Medicine that found that there were insufficient “safety net” physicians – unofficially referring to those physicians who deliver care to persons on Medicaid and uninsured people – in the period under study (2000). With the large number of previously uninsured individuals entering the system in 2014, it will be further stressed, the MGH research indicates.

The ACA, as part of its mandate toward affordable health care for almost everyone, has called for an expansion of eligibility for Medicaid.

Many of the newly insured will seek out safety net physicians, who are already stretched thin. They may or may not be able to find a primary care physician who is able to take them.

One solution suggested by the MGH research involves recruiting additional primary physicians with traits that are consistent with current safety net physicians.

According to MGH, women, minorities and graduates of foreign medical schools are most likely to have become safety net doctors, and to expand the numbers, the recommendation is to make a focused effort to bring more of these physicians into primary care.

The research also noted that safety net physicians now operate with limited resources. This “too” will need to be changed along with the income gap between safety net and non-safety net primary care physicians, if newly insured people are to be able to find physicians to care for them.