Ora Botwinick examines Dahlia Arbella, 5, at Multnomah County's North Portland Health Center in 2012. Federal health reforms have expanded access to coverage, but a shortage of primary care physicians means people can face challenges scheduling appointments (The Associated Press)
The Associated Press, December 7, 2014
MIAMI — When Olivia Papa signed up for a new health plan last year, her insurance company assigned her to a primary care doctor. The relatively healthy 61-year-old didn't try to see the doctor until last month, when she and her husband both needed authorization to see separate specialists.
She called the doctor's office several times without luck.
"They told me that they were not on the plan, they were never on the plan and they'd been trying to get their name off the plan all year," said Papa, who recently bought a plan from a different insurance company.
It was no better with the next doctor she was assigned. The Naples, Florida, resident said she left a message to make an appointment, "and they never called back."
The Papas were among the 6.7 million people who gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act last year, flooding a primary care system that is struggling to keep up with demand.
A survey this year by The Physicians Foundation found that 81 percent of doctors describe themselves as either over-extended or at full capacity, and 44 percent said they planned to cut back on the number of patients they see, retire, work part-time or close their practice to new patients.
At the same time, insurance companies have routinely limited the number of doctors and providers on their plans as a way to cut costs. The result has further restricted some patients' ability to get appointments quickly.