Study: ACA improved Medicaid patients' primary care access

More people enrolled in Medicaid were able to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider after the ACA took effect, according to a new study. Image: Getty/designer491

More patients with Medicaid have been able to schedule appointments with primary care physicians since the Affordable Care Act has taken effect, a new study found.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania compared appointment availability for new Medicaid patients in 2012 and 2013 to 2016, and found availability jumped from 57.9% to 63.2% in that window, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Appointment availability for people with private insurance did not change during the study period.

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“Results of our study should ease concerns that the Affordable Care Act would aggravate access to primary care,” lead study author Daniel Polsky, a professor at Penn’s medical school and the executive director of its Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, said in an announcement. The finding that more doctors are accepting patients with Medicaid, not fewer, is particularly noteworthy since it offers evidence contradicting some Medicaid critics' view that "more and more doctors just won’t take Medicaid," he added.

The study focused on data collected between November 2012 and April 2013 and then from February to June 2016. Participants came from 10 states: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas. The study subjects called a random in-network primary care provider and requested the next available appointment.

The researchers also found that people enrolled in both Medicaid and private plans were more likely to experience a long wait time for an appointment after the ACA took effect. But the authors noted this trend was expected as more people try to access primary care. Massachusetts experienced a similar spike when it expanded Medicaid in 2006, the announcement points out.