Primary care appointment availability and nonphysician providers one year after Medicaid expansion

OBJECTIVES: With insurance enrollment greater than expected under the Affordable Care Act, uncertainty about the availability and timeliness of healthcare services for newly insured individuals has increased. We examined primary care appointment availability and wait times for new Medicaid and privately insured patients before and after Medicaid expansion in Michigan.STUDY DESIGN: Simulated patient (“secret shopper”) study.
METHODS: Extended follow-up of a previously reported simulated patient (“secret shopper”) study assessing accessibility of routine new patient appointments in a stratified proportionate random sample of Michigan primary care practices before versus 4, 8, and 12 months after Medicaid expansion.
RESULTS: During the study period, approximately 600,000 adults enrolled in Michigan's Medicaid expansion program, representing 57% of the previously uninsured nonelderly adult population. One year after expansion, we found that appointment availability remained increased by 6 percentage points for new Medicaid patients (95% CI, 1.6-11.1) and decreased by 2 percentage points for new privately insured patients (95% CI, -0.5 to -3.8). Over the same period, the proportion of appointments scheduled with nonphysician providers (nurse practitioners or physician assistants) increased from 8% to 21% of Medicaid appointments (95% CI, 5.6-20.2) and from 11% to 19% of private-insurance appointments (95% CI, 1.3-14.1). Median wait times remained stable for new Medicaid patients and increased slightly for new privately insured patients, both remaining within 2 weeks.
CONCLUSIONS: During the first year following Medicaid expansion in Michigan, appointment availability for new Medicaid patients increased, a greater proportion of appointments could be obtained with nonphysician providers, and wait times remained within 2 weeks.