Policy Tip Sheet: States Should Expand Direct Primary Care to Help Expand Availability of Primary Care

One of the lesser-known factors driving skyrocketing health care costs throughout the country is the lack of primary care physicians. Indeed, many states are experiencing a severe shortage of primary care physicians. According to a 2018 report from United Health Group, 13 percent of American patients live in a county with a shortage of primary care physicians.

This shortage is exacerbated by the fact that many new physicians choose to practice specialty medicine instead of primary care. Although there are many reasons for this shift, the high costs and logistical challenges inherent in primary care medicine are major contributing factors. According to the American Journal of Medicine, the percentage of American primary care physicians decreased from 50 percent in 1961 to 33 percent in 2015. The United Health study also found that only 288,000 out of 869,000 physicians conduct primary care services.

Unfortunately, this problem is likely to become worse before it becomes better. The United Health Group study estimates that by 2030 there will only be 306,000 primary care providers in the nation. Additionally, by 2032, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will increase by 48 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This, along with several other factors, will magnify the need for primary care doctors.

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