Physicians’ willingness to treat Medi-Cal beneficiaries is critical to ensuring Medi-Cal enrollees have adequate access to care. Without a sufficient number of doctors serving Medi-Cal beneficiaries, Medi-Cal enrollees may not be able to receive care in a timely manner.
Self-reported data from a voluntary survey of California physicians show physician participation in Medi-Cal declined from 69% in 2013 to 63% in 2015. (Physicians are identified as participating in Medi-Cal if they report any of their patients are covered by Medi-Cal.) The percentage of specialty care physicians participating in Medi-Cal likewise dropped during this time, from 70% to 64%.
Physicians’ willingness to treat Medi-Cal beneficiaries is critical to ensuring Medi-Cal enrollees have adequate access to care. Without a sufficient number of doctors serving Medi-Cal beneficiaries, Medi-Cal enrollees may not be able to receive care in a timely manner. Beneficiaries may delay seeking needed care with disastrous effects or may end up receiving care in more costly settings.
There are many other ways to examine trends in physician participation in Medi-Cal. The share of physicians accepting new Medi-Cal patients is also an indicator of the program’s capacity to meet demand. If a decreasing share of participating physicians are willing or able to take new Medi-Cal patients, beneficiaries in the program may have trouble getting the care they need. The proportion of physicians accepting new Medi-Cal patients has historically lagged behind the proportion accepting new patients covered by Medicare, which has a higher reimbursement rate, as well as behind the proportion accepting new patients with private health insurance.
Previous studies (for examples, see here and here) suggest that prior to the ACA enrollment surge, California adults with Medi-Cal faced more challenges accessing care than those with private insurance. The 2015 physician participation indicators raise red flags. Other important access metrics on ACA 411 include Timely Appointment, Delayed or Forgone Care, and breakdowns by source of insurance. Examining these indicators together will provide more insight into access barriers for Medi-Cal beneficiaries in the post-ACA era.
Amy Adams is a senior program officer for CHCF’s Improving Access team, which works to improve access to coverage and care for low-income Californians.
Prior to joining the foundation, Amy worked for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), leading a range of state and federal health care policy and research efforts. Her most recent work there focused on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), analyzing regulations and developing policy positions. Prior to that, she led a team working on Medicaid policy issues in California and other states, including public hospital and long-term care financing issues. Amy also brings program evaluation and assessment experience through her previous work as deputy director of a nonprofit research and policy organization and a private consultant to foundations, government agencies, and nonprofits. She received a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Yale College and a master’s degree in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley.