Insured, Low-Income Massachusetts Residents Lack Access To Primary Care Physicians

Armen Hareyan's picture
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A "critical shortage" of primary care physicians in Massachusetts hasled many doctors to stop accepting new patients, according to a reportreleased Tuesday by the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, the lack of PCPs "threatens to undermine" the Massachusetts health insurance law, which took effect July 1 and requires all state residents to obtain coverage or face tax penalties.

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Thestudy found that 49% of internists in the state are not accepting newpatients and that 95% of the 270 general practice physicians atBoston's top three teaching hospitals have stopped accepting newpatients. The Journal reports that "some providers saythey have no idea how they will accommodate an additional half-millionpatients seeking checkups and other routine care." The average waittime for Massachusetts residents who make an appointment with their PCPis more than seven weeks -- a 57% increase over last year, according tothe medical society.

Community health centers particularly areaffected by the state physician shortage because they are "likely toface the largest influx of newly insured patients," according to the Journal.Some health centers have placed a temporary freeze on enrollmentbecause there are not enough physicians to meet patient demand.

Elmer Freeman, director of the Center for Community Health, Education, Research and Servicein Boston, said, "Health reform won't mean anything for the state'spoor if they can't get a doctor's appointment." The number of PCPsnationwide decreased by 6% relative to the general population from 2001to 2005, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change (Seward, Wall Street Journal, 7/25).
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