Opinion: If Future of Healthcare Reform Resembles Massachusetts, We're in Trouble

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Massachusetts is often hailed as the template for healthcare reform, but Boston Globe opinion columnist Jeff Jacoby sees that as a scary thought given a recent report on physician wait times.

A recent survey from Merritt Hawkins found it takes more than 45 days, on average, to schedule an appointment with a physician in the Boston area. Given the city's physician-to-population ratio — 450 physicians per 100,000 residents — "such an abundance of providers ought to mean shorter wait times for an appointment, not the longest in the country," wrote Mr. Jacoby.

He says this finding suggests what is happening in Boston is unlikely to remain specific to Boston. The survey noted that the city's long wait times may be driven in part by its 2006 statewide healthcare reform law, which shrunk the portion of residents without coverage to 3 percent. The nation may see similar outcomes in light of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's insurance expansion, according to the Merritt Hawkins report.

There are also fewer physicians available to take on greater demand, according to Mr. Jacoby. He cites a 2013 statewide survey from the Massachusetts Medical Society, which found half of primary care practices were not accepting new patients. Further, the share of family physicians and internists taking new patients dropped by one-fifth over the last seven to nine years, he wrote.

"[Former Gov. Mitt] Romney's law didn't make a dent in the number of patients showing up in the state's emergency rooms. It didn't keep insurance premiums from racing ahead of inflation. It didn't relieve taxpayers from having to pour hundreds of millions of dollars annually into more and more 'free' care for safety-net users," wrote Mr. Jacoby. "And it hasn't made it any easier to get a doctor's appointment without a long wait."

More Articles on Boston Hospitals:

Boston Has Longest Wait Times for Physician Appointments Out of 15 Metro Areas
Partners HealthCare Receives 31% of Massachusetts Payers' Acute-Care Spending
40% of Medicare Discharges in Massachusetts Occur in Major Teaching Hospitals

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