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Strengthening Primary Care

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Ensuring access to health care across Minnesota

Primary care is the foundation of good health care.  These providers--nurses, doctors, and physician assistants--keep our overall health in mind and provide preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies. 
As our state’s population ages and more Minnesotans have health coverage under health reform, we need strong primary care services available across the state.  The problem is that primary care providers make significantly less money than doctors in specialty fields like cardiology or dermatology.  Since many medical students leave school with significant debt, fewer students choose to go into primary care.

Health reform strengthens Minnesota’s primary care capacity by increasing these physicians’ payments when they serve Medicaid and Medicare patients.  These increases begin in 2011 and will attract more physicians to primary care. 

Which physicians will be impacted?

Physicians who practice family medicine, general internal medicine, or pediatric medicine will all receive the Medicaid and Medicare payment increases.

How much more will primary care providers receive and for how long?

Medicare will provide a 10 percent bonus payment for primary care provided by qualified physicians from 2011-2015. Because Medicaid payments rates have historically been below Medicare rates, health reform brings Medicaid primary care rates up to be equal to Medicare rates. Both increases may be extended beyond the current end date. 

How will the Medicaid enhancement improve access to primary care?

Increasing reimbursement rates will improve payments to primary care and attract more physicians into the practice of primary care. The number of primary care physicians has fallen by nearly 50 percent since 1997. Students tend to choose specialties that pay more, particularly given the increasing indebtedness of medical school graduates. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average educational debt of 2012 medical school graduates (including pre-medical school borrowing) was $166,750. The average indebtedness of 2011 graduates of the University of Minnesota Medical School was $174,577.

In 2011, the national average income of family physicians was $158,000, according to MedScape.  The mean salary for non-primary care specialists was much higher.  For example, cardiologists' average salary of $314,000 was nearly twice that of primary care physicians.