Background: Providing increases in Medicaid reimbursements for primary care, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), raised Medicaid payments to Medicare levels in 2013 and 2014 for selected services and providers. The federally funded increase in reimbursements was aimed at expanding access to primary care for the growing number of Medicaid enrollees. The reimbursement increase expired at the end of 2014 in most states before policymakers had much empirical evidence about its effects.
Methods: We measured the availability of and waiting times for appointments in 10 states during two periods: from November 2012 through March 2013 and from May 2014 through July 2014. Trained field staff posed as either Medicaid enrollees or privately insured enrollees seeking new-patient primary care appointments. We estimated state-level changes over time in a stable cohort of primary care practices that participated in Medicaid to assess whether willingness to provide appointments for new Medicaid enrollees was related to the size of increases in Medicaid reimbursements in each state.
Results: The availability of primary care appointments in the Medicaid group increased by 7.7 percentage points, from 58.7% to 66.4%, between the two time periods. The states with the largest increases in availability tended to be those with the largest increases in reimbursements, with an estimated increase of 1.25 percentage points in availability per 10% increase in Medicaid reimbursements (P=0.03). No such association was observed in the private-insurance group. During the same periods, waiting times to a scheduled new-patient appointment remained stable over time in the two study groups.
Conclusions: Our study provides early evidence that increased Medicaid reimbursement to primary care providers, as mandated in the ACA, was associated with improved appointment availability for Medicaid enrollees among participating providers without generating longer waiting times. (Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.).