So we’ve already established that patients like me are pretty much a primary care physician’s nightmare—complicated histories, hordes of specialists, all sorts of medications and symptoms to monitor. As I wrote a few months ago, though, some of those factors are the very reasons people like me need a good PCP, someone who can help coordinate the moving parts of disease management.
(As an aside, I have yet to find a group that is accepting new patients, but I’m going to renew my search now that a tough winter is over.)
Yet effective preventative medicine is the key to minimizing or even eliminating chronic disease, one of the most expensive and pervasive issues in health care. This is a given, and the logical extension of this is the idea that the more access people have to health care coverage, the better the outcome.
But theory and practice aren’t always as close together as we’d like. For example, here in Massachusetts a universal coverage plan was implemented several months ago. While costs have been significantly greater than previously estimated, a more compelling result is the one referred to in this New York Times article. In looking at the growing gap between urban and rural care, the article went on to posit this:
“Now in Massachusetts, in an unintended consequence of universal coverage, the imbalance is being exacerbated by the state’s new law requiring residents to have health insurance...Since last year, when the landmark law took effect, about 340,000 of Massachusetts’ estimated 600,000 uninsured have gained coverage. Many are now searching for doctors and scheduling appointments for long-deferred care.”
Of course, the fact that 340,000 patients are now covered is an encouraging one. But if one of the main goals of health insurance is to promote preventative medicine, how effective can it be if the patients who have lacked primary care medicine are unable to use their new insurance to see a physician? Or must wait months for an appointment?
Factors behind the primary care drought—lower salaries, educational debt, an aging population that demands more care—were already there. Add to that an influx of patients who all need the same resources, and it’s all too easy to see why doctors and patients alike are feeling the crunch:
“It is a fundamental truth — which we are learning the hard way in Massachusetts — that comprehensive health care reform cannot work without appropriate access to primary care physicians and providers,” Dr. Bruce Auerbach, the president-elect of the Massachusetts Medical Society, told Congress in February.”