More patients going to the doctor in wake of Medicaid expansion

A new analysis from the ACAView project, the joint effort between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and athenahealth to track the impact of the Affordable Care Act, has found a big bounce in primary-care visits in states that expanded Medicaid.

A report released by the project Feb. 25 shows that, from 2011 through the end of 2015, more than 1 in 5 primary-care visits in expansion states were from Medicaid patients.

This more than doubles the primary-case visits (fewer than 1 in 10) in states that opted not to expand Medicaid.

According to the report, analysts looked at data from close to 22,000 providers, including nearly 5,000 primary care physicians (PCPs).

They found the jump in PCP visits particularly pronounced in 2014, when the Medicaid expansion took full effect.

They also found that more than 67 percent of the first-time Medicaid patients had a follow-up visit within 18 months, suggesting that Medicaid expansion “has led to the formation of new physician-patient relationships that could lead to better care and outcomes over time,” according to the report’s summary of findings.

The analysts also looked at privately insured patients in the same time frame. It turns out this cohort, despite not being as directly impacted by Obamacare, still had 125,000 more free visits to PCPs in 2015 compared to 2011 (1.24 million vs. 1.11 million, an 11 percent increase).

However, the privately insured paid slightly more out of pocket for PCP visits in 2015 vs. 2011 ($31.57 vs. $27.98), and they paid significantly more for surgical visits ($74.42 vs. $62.44).

From a doctor’s eye view, the findings suggest that PCPs with different degrees of Medicaid experience “have been willing and able to take on new Medicaid-covered patients,” the report authors write.

Further, physicians seem to have been “willing to take on this increment of new work and have done so without apparent harm to their revenue.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been championing healthcare reform for many years, supporting Hillary Clinton’s efforts in the 1990s and promoting Obamacare in various ways in the 2000s.

athenahealth has posted the full report online.