(HealthDay News) — Although most primary care physicians are accepting new patients, access for new patients varies across states and with insurance status, according to a study published online April 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Karin V. Rhodes, MD, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues examined primary care appointment availability by state and insurance status. In a simulated patient study, trained field staff were randomized to private insurance, Medicaid, or uninsured, and called to request the first available primary care appointment for a routine or urgent health concern. A stratified random sample of primary care practices treating nonelderly adults within 10 states were included.

A total of 12,907 calls were made to 7,788 primary care practices between Nov. 13, 2012, and April 4, 2013. The researchers found that 84.7% (95% confidence incidence [CI], 82.6–86.8%) of privately insured and 57.9% (95% CI, 54.8–61.0 percent) of Medicaid callers received an appointment across the 10 states. For uninsured patients with full cash payment, appointment rates were 78.8% (95% CI, 75.6–82.0 percent), while rates were 15.4% (95% CI, 13.2–17.6%) if payment required at the time of visits was limited to $75 or less. Median wait times were generally less than one week (two weeks in Massachusetts), with no differences by insurance status or health concern urgency.

“Although most primary care physicians are accepting new patients, access varies widely across states and insurance status,” the authors write. “Navigator programs are needed, not only to help patients enroll but also to identify practices accepting new patients within each plan’s network.”

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