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Medicaid Enrollment to Outpace Primary Care Providers

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 18, 2011

The growth in Medicaid enrollment under healthcare reform will greatly outpace growth in the number of primary care physicians willing to treat new Medicaid patients in much of the country – particularly the South and Mountain West, a national study shows.

The study, released this week by the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change, also found that temporary increases in Medicaid reimbursement to entice primary care physicians to accept Medicaid patients are unlikely to make a difference in the states with the biggest enrollment jumps.

"The study's bottom line is that growth in Medicaid enrollment in much of the country will greatly outpace growth in the number of primary care physicians willing to treat new Medicaid patients resulting from increased reimbursement," said HSC Senior Fellow Peter J. Cunningham, the study's author.

Under federal health reform, Medicaid eligibility will expand to cover as many as 16 million more poor and low-income adults by 2019. Nationally, 42% of primary care physicians in 2008 were accepting all or most new Medicaid patients, compared with 61% of primary care physicians accepting all or most new Medicare patients, and 84% accepting all or most privately insured patients.

The study found that states with the smallest number of primary care physicians per capita overall—generally in the South and Mountain West—potentially will see the largest percentage increases in Medicaid enrollment. In contrast, states with the largest number of primary care physicians per capita—primarily in the Northeast—will see more modest increases in Medicaid enrollment.

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