Primary Care Physician Shortage and New Medicaid Patients: Growing Concern

With the growing number of Medicaid patients (more than 15 million will be added in the next 3 years), the concern that now exists centers around the need for primary care physicians to deal with this influx of new patients. Many healthcare experts fear that, in most parts of the country, enrollment in Medicaid will far surpass the number of doctors who accept Medicaid.

To the medical community, it comes as no surprise that there is a potential shortage of primary care physicians. For years, many physician groups have sounded the alarm about this problem. Recent studies indicate that more medical students are interested in family medicine, but the long term problem still exists: more and more medical students are choosing specialty care over primary care.

It’s easy to look at this as a problem for those enrolled (or soon to be enrolled) in Medicaid. What’s even more alarming is the rate with which Medicaid enrollment will increase over the next 10-15 years. If this problem isn’t addressed, quickly and efficiently, it could spell even great peril down the road.

With changes by the Obama administration to the way that previously uninsured gain coverage, this shortage of those available to provide care can become a problem of epic proportion. Data provided, on a national level, regarding Medicaid shows that only 40% of primary care physicians accept new Medicaid patients. Physicians site low reimbursement rates as the key factor contributing to their unwillingness to participate. These numbers are in contrast to the number of physicians reported to accept new Medicare patients (60%+) and those accepting privately insured patients (80%+).

The United States government is trying to tackle this problem by temporarily increasing the reimbursement rate to level the playing field and get Medicaid payments levels to that of Medicare. However, a temporary fix is not a long term solution to the problem.

The health-care overhaul bill includes some sweeteners meant to increase the appeal of accepting Medicaid patients, namely temporarily increasing reimbursement to the same levels as Medicare reimbursement for certain primary-care services. This will not help to increase the number of physicians who willingly accept Medicaid and will only compound the problem.

By Kevin Hunter