By Dan Cook
It’s one thing to obtain health insurance, and quite another to be able to use it to visit a doctor. As the physician
shortage becomes ever more critical, many Americans who finally have affordable health insurance are learning that there are only so many primary care doctors to go around.
A study by the National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that 62 million people in the United States don’t have access to a primary care physician.
Read: Doctor vacancies soar as PPACA rolls out
“Access is more than just having an insurance card. It is more than getting care in an emergency room,” the study’s authors said. “Access is having a regular, reliable source of quality preventive and primary health care. Unfortunately, too many uninsured — and even insured — Americans have inadequate access to primary care.”
The study’s results support the organization’s contention that, without community health centers, the situation would be even worse. “If it were not for community health centers, 21 million more people could experience the barrier of primary care provider shortages,” the report said.
The study offered evidence that community health centers have higher rates of accepting new patients than do other primary care providers. In the case of new Medicare and Medicaid patients, the difference is substantial and perhaps shocking: 97 percent of community health centers accept new Medicaid patients, compared to 66 percent of “other,” and 96 percent accept new Medicare patients compared to 76 percent of “other.”
But overall, the study suggested that “other primary care providers” aren’t doing a bad job of accepting new patients. When all new patients are considered, community health centers accept 98 percent, “other” accept 93 percent. For the newly insured, the breakdown is 97 percent vs. 89 percent.
Other findings of the study include:
- 43 percent of those who don’t have primary care physician access are low-income.
- 28 percent live in rural areas.
- 38 percent are racial/ethnic minorities.
- 80 of those without access have insurance (22 percent are covered by Medicaid and 58 percent have other insurance).
The authors estimated that health centers save $1,263 per patient per year “because patients have access to timely and appropriate care for their health care
needs.” That translates into $24 billion a year, the organization reported.
The organization said that ongoing government support for community health centers is vital to their continued service because, as their Medicaid patient load has increased, Medicaid reimbursements have decreased.
“It is important to note that insurance coverage is only one piece of the equation when it comes to access to health care,” said Dan Hawkins, senior vice president for policy and research at NACHC. “Even as Americans in every state gain coverage, this report makes clear that too many remain without access to vital primary care services. Access is the answer to what ails our health care system, and health centers stand ready to provide that access in communities across the nation.”
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com