Access to Health Insurance and Doctor Availability Come Hand in Hand

Despite concerns that an increasing number of insured individuals could mean longer wait times for doctors' appointments, a new study found that the availability for primary care physicians improved for individuals obtaining Medicaid improved in Michigan after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Access to health insurance and doctor availability are connected, at least in the state of Michigan, according to a University of Michigan study.

The study found that the availability for primary care physicians improved for individuals obtaining Medicaid during the first few months the state implemented the Healthy Michigan Plan under the Affordable Care Act, a timeframe that showed more than 350,000 previously uninsured adults joining the plan.

Researchers with the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation used the "secret shopper" survey method and called hundreds of clinics in the state of Michigan posing as prospective patients who needed routine health check ups.

During their investigation, researchers found that 49% of clinics offered an appointment before the expansion and 55% of clinics offered an appointment after the expansion. Before and after expansion, these clinics offered appointments within the same wait times, which was about 1 week.

The study also found that appointment offerings for patients with private insurers came at a higher rate than Medicaid-insured patients, about 88% before and 86% after the expansion and were offered within the same wait times as those with Medicaid coverage—1 week.

“Getting appointments as new patients is a challenging process” Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, senior author of the study and professor of pediatrics, internal medicine, public policy and public health at U-M, said in a statement. "This study illustrates that although fewer practices accept Medicaid than accept private insurance, expanding access to coverage in Michigan has not made it more difficult to get an appointment as a new patient. That is good news for patients in Michigan."

While researchers encountered exceptions to their findings, they learned through this study the difficulty many clinical staff’s face when scheduling appointments for patients.