Medicaid patients wait longer at office visits than those with private insurance

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Medicaid patients are significantly more likely to experience long wait times than privately insured patients, per a new study.

Medicaid patients endure longer wait times during office visits than patients with private insurance, according to a new Health Affairs study.

Researchers looked at data encompassing 21 million outpatient visits and found that Medicaid patients were significantly more likely to wait longer than 20 minutes after their scheduled appointment time than individuals with private insurance. The results add to a body of existing evidence that, despite increased access to primary care for Medicaid patients, barriers to care remain relative to other patient populations.

Excessive wait times can have a drastic effect on the patient experience, and the issue represents a perennial complaint among patients. While the study found a median wait time of under five minutes, wait times exceeded 20 minutes in nearly 20% of cases, and another 10% had wait times exceeding 30 minutes. The shortest wait times occurred in large practices, as well as for younger patients and appointments in the early morning hours, researchers found.

The authors suggest that the difference between wait times for Medicaid patients compared to patients with private insurance likely stems in large part from the fact that each group typically sees a different set of practices and physicians. “This supports previous research suggesting that practices and physicians that disproportionately serve Medicaid patients differ in other aspects of the care environment,” the authors write.

However, in cases where both patient populations saw the same physician in the same practice, Medicaid patients still waited 5% longer. The authors suggest this result may reflect practices giving preference to privately insured patients, or a scheduling anomaly where Medicaid patients might be more likely to arrive at their appointments late, throwing off the practice’s schedule.