Is the Primary Care Shortage Exaggerated?

In general, the nation's primary care system is holding up fine with few shortages, even with the addition of patients who gained insurance for the first time under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to a Kaiser Health News report.

This is contrary to what many experts predicted would happen: long waits for appointments for the newly insured due to a lack of providers.

"Despite the widely publicized shortage of primary care physicians, primary care capacity does exist in each state," Karin Rhodes, MD, director of the Center for Emergency Care Policy & Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told KHN.

Sherry Gleid, PhD, dean of New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, agreed, calling the predictions "overblown" and telling KHN "the primary care system is not being stretched to its absolute limits."

KHN sampled health centers and large physician groups in several states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. Most providers said they were well-prepared for any large influx of patients, and few are reporting delays for patients wishing to receive care.

However, the areas that saw the largest growth in insured patients, like parts of Colorado, Kentucky and Washington, have seen primary care shortages, according to the report. For example, HealthPoint, a network of nine community health centers and six dental clinics in the Seattle area, is turning away 150 people each week.

Additionally, outside factors may be dampening the effects of expanded insurance coverage. For example, millions of people who signed up for Medicaid are still awaiting their insurance cards due to backlogs, KHN reported.

Many providers are still anticipating a rush of new patients coming soon, as the newly insured become more familiar with benefits and what the system has to offer. "We have not felt the full impact of it yet," David Fleming, MD, president of the American College of Physicians, told KHN. "We are going to see a substantial increase in volume, and it is going to be a problem because there are not enough primary care doctors."

More Articles on the Physician Shortage:
HANYS Survey Finds Statewide Primary Care Shortages
4 Pillars to Grow the Primary Care Workforce
8 Physician Shortage Statistics

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