Half of insured adults are skipping primary care visits. Cost a major reason why.

In a given year by 2016, almost 50 percent of adults with commercial insurance hadn't visited a primary care physician, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine wanted to better characterize primary care declines among adults. To do so, the study authors analyzed deidentified claims data from a national private insurer that covers roughly 20 million members each year, according to NPR.

They found from 2008-16, adult visits to primary care physicians fell by nearly 25 percent. The decline was largest among younger adults. The proportion of adults with no visits to primary care physicians in a given year climbed from 38.1 percent to 46.4 percent within the same period.

While the number of preventive checkups rose — likely because the ACA made the appointments cost-free — problem-based visits, such as going to a primary care physician for sickness or injury, declined more than 30 percent, according to NPR.

Problem-based visits saw out-of-pocket costs increase 31.5 percent during the study period, which could have affected the decline, according to researchers. Additionally, visits to alternative sites like urgent care clinics grew by 46.9 percent in the study period.

"Our results suggest that this decline may be explained by decreased real or perceived visit needs, financial deterrents, and use of alternative sources of care," the study authors concluded. 

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