NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Long Waits for Doctor Visits in Massachusetts

May 11, 2011

Almost everyone in Massachusetts has health insurance under a state mandate, but many doctors do not accept the subsidized insurance programs available to low-income residents, according to a new study.  Residents in some areas also face long waits in getting doctors' appointments, or find that overstretched primary care practices are not taking on new patients, says Reuters.

The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) issued its annual Physician Workforce survey on May 9.         

  • Massachusetts, like much of the nation, has a severe shortage of doctors in primary care -- internists and family physicians -- because those fields are less lucrative.        
  • Many primary care doctors do not accept MassHealth, the state's version of Medicaid, and even less accept Commonwealth Care and Commonwealth Choice, programs for low- and moderate-income residents.        
  • More than half of primary care practices are not taking new patients, especially patients for whose treatment they will be paid at a much lower level than for those carrying private health insurance.       
  • Long wait times are common -- almost seven weeks, on average, for a non-emergency appointment for internal medicine.        
  • The average wait time for pediatricians was 24 days.

New patient wait times in Massachusetts jumped between 2006 and 2007 after the initial implementation of the state health care reform law, and have remained high.  As a result, the rate of emergency room visits to receive care has also stayed high.

More lucrative specialist practices -- gastroenterology, cardiology, obstetrics/gynecology and orthopedics -- were in most instances taking new patients, although long wait times were still seen, MMS said.

Source: Ros Krasny, "In Massachusetts, Long Waits for Doctor Visits," Reuters, May 9, 2011.  "2011 Patient Access to Health Care Survey," Massachusetts Medical Society, May 9, 2011.

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