Trends in Total and Out-of-Pocket Expenditures for Visits to Primary Care Physicians, by Insurance Type, 2002-2017

Michael E Johansen, Jonathan D Y Yun
Annals of Family Medicine 2020, 18 (5): 430-437

PURPOSE: Total and out-of-pocket visit expenditures for primary care physician visits may affect how primary care is delivered. We determined trends in these expenditures for visits to US primary care physicians.

METHODS: Using the 2002-2017 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, we ascertained changes in total and out-of-pocket visit expenditures for primary care visits for Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. We calculated mean values for each insurer using a generalized linear model and a 2-part model, respectively.

RESULTS: Analyses were based on 750,837 primary care visits during 2002-2017. Over time, the proportion of primary care visits associated with private insurance or no insurance decreased, while Medicare- or Medicaid-associated visits increased. The proportion of visits with $0 out-of-pocket expenditure increased, primarily from an increase in $0 private insurance visits. Total expenditure per visit increased for private insurance and Medicare visits, but did not notably change for Medicaid visits. Out-of-pocket expenditures rose primarily from increases in private insurance visits with higher expenditures of this type. Medicare and Medicaid had minimal change in out-of-pocket expenditure per visit.

CONCLUSIONS: Between 2002 and 2017, mean total expenditures and out-of-pocket expenditures increased for primary care visits, but at notably lower rates than those previously documented for emergency department visits. A rise in total expenditure per visit was identified for private insurance and Medicare, but not for Medicaid. Out-of-pocket expenditures increased marginally related to changes in out-of-pocket expenditures for private insurance visits. We would expect increasing difficulty with primary care physician access, particularly for Medicaid patients, if the current trends continue.

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