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Survey shows in Mass., insurance coverage doesn't guarantee access to care

By Bob Salsberg

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 15 2013 12:52 p.m. MDT

About half of the state's primary care practices are closed to new patients and wait times to see a primary care physician remain long, according to the results of an annual survey released Monday by the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Steven Senne, AP

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BOSTON — About half of the state's primary care practices are closed to new patients and wait times to see a primary care physician remain long, according to the results of an annual survey released Monday by the Massachusetts Medical Society.

According to the survey of 1,137 doctor's offices, 51 percent of family physicians and 45 percent of internists are accepting new patients. Family physicians and internists are the two most common types of general practitioners.

The results are similar to last year's survey that found 50 percent of family doctors and 51 percent of internists open to new patients in Massachusetts.

The average wait time for a non-emergency appointment with a primary care doctor in the latest survey is 39 days for family physicians, an improvement from 45 days last year. But the wait time to see an internist was 50 days, up from 44 days a year ago.

The figures varied widely by region. The shortest average wait time for family medicine was 16 days in Suffolk County, and the longest was 106 days for Franklin County in western Massachusetts. For internal medicine, the shortest average wait was 26 days in Worcester County, the longest 128 days in Bristol County.

"While we've achieved success in securing insurance coverage for nearly all of our residents, coverage doesn't guarantee access to care," said Dr. Ronald Dunlap, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, referring to the state's first-in-the-nation universal health insurance law.

"The concern is that limited and delayed access can lead to undesirable results, as people will seek more costly care at emergency rooms, delay care too long, or not seek care at all," he said.

Access to care was better for children, with 70 percent of pediatric practices accepting new patients, the survey found, though that was down 2 percent from last year. The average wait time for a non-emergency visit to a pediatrician was 25 days.

Average wait times for specialty care, including cardiology, gastroenterology, were about the same or somewhat lower than a year ago. One exception was for orthopedics, which saw an increase from 16 days in 2012 to 22 days this year.

The survey also found that it was much easier to find a specialist than a primary care doctor. For example, 85 percent of cardiologists and 84 percent of obstetricians-gynecologists were accepting new patients.

Dunlap said the state's medical community continued to have a strong record of accepting the government insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid.

Ninety percent of family physicians accept Medicare and 70 percent accept MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, according to the survey. Among internists, 85 percent accept Medicare and 66 percent take MassHealth patients. The medical society noted that acceptance rates for MassHealth increased in general among primary care physicians over last year's survey.

Medicare acceptance rates among the major specialties were all above 90 percent and above 80 percent for MassHealth.

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