Investments in primary care mirror physicians entering the field: Too few

The U.S. invested less than 6.5 percent of total health spending on primary care between 2010 and 2020 — which researchers called "a systemic underinvestment" — according to an inaugural scorecard assessing the primary care sector.

The new scorecard, which will now be published annually, also revealed that Medicaid spending on primary care is down and fell from a former high of 5 percent of its total spending to a low of 4 percent in 2020. 

Additionally, it points out that "from 2017 to 2021, the percentage of National Institutes of Health dollars allocated to family medicine departments remained stagnant at just above 0.2 percent a year." 

The scorecard is the first of its kind — designed to begin serving as a baseline data source to compare, track and initiate progress in the primary care field to ultimately aid in informing healthcare policies, according to a Feb. 22 press release shared with Becker's

"We cannot underestimate the critical role primary care plays in our health care system, from improving patient outcomes to enhancing access to quality care for everyone," Ripley Hollister, MD, a board member of the Physicians Foundation and family medicine physician, said in a press statement. "This first benchmark report provides necessary recommendations to help address the mounting challenges that primary care physicians are facing."

Other key findings revealed further insight into the physician shortage and dwindling physician training in rural areas. Only 1 in 5 medical residents entered primary care as a profession between 2012 and 2020. 

The tool was developed by researchers at the American Academy of Family Physicians out of a challenge made by a 2021 report from the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine that highlighted a long-standing need for a measurement system to gain clearer insights into this part of the healthcare sector. It is funded by the Milbank Memorial Fund and the Physicians Foundation.

The report also includes recommendations for policymakers about how to strengthen primary care nationwide. 

"We can do better, and this scorecard can serve as an essential tool for policymakers and other stakeholders to pursue policies that will increase investments in high-quality primary care in every community," Christopher Koller, president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, said in a press statement.

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