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Surprising finding: Doctors don’t want patients with private insurance

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Private health insurance acceptance from physicians

Privately insured patients turned away by doctors

Insured patients may soon find limited access to healthcare, according to a surprising finding from Weill Cornell Medical College study.

The study finding, which appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows fewer physicians are accepting patients with private insurance.

According to Dr. Tara Bishop, assistant professor of public health at Weil Cornell, "Given the medical profession's widely reported dissatisfaction with Medicare, we expected to find hard evidence that Medicare patients were being turned away.

Instead, we saw only a modest decline in doctors' acceptance of patients on Medicare. The survey data showed a more significant decline in their acceptance of patients with private insurance."

Bishop notes the finding is counterproductive to health care reform.

From 2005 to 2008, physician acceptance of privately insured patients dropped from 93.3 percent to 87.8 percent.

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The researchers suspect the reason doctors don’t want to see patients with private insurance is poor reimbursement rates that are no longer in line with medical expenditures.

The study finding, taken from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics also found a slight drop in physicians who will accept Medicare patients, which declined from 95.9 percent in 2005 to 92.9 percent in 2008.

But it’s not just inadequate reimbursement keeping doctors from accepting patients with private medical insurance. According to Bishop, administrative issues are also a factor.

"At a moment when the country is poised to achieve near-universal coverage, patients' access to care could be a casualty of the collision between the medical profession and the insurance industry," says Dr. Bishop.

Medicaid patients are also being turning away by physicians at increasing rates, due to historically low reimbursement rates, but not at the same declining rate as privately insured patients.

The finding surprised researchers who expected to find physicians less willing to accept Medicare patients. Instead, those who are privately insured may find it more difficult to access physician care, setting the stage for more even more health care woes.

Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(12):1117-1119. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.251