Fewer Americans Are Seeing Primary Care Providers

Are you one of them?

Having a primary care provider (PCP) can help keep patients on the path to good health. Yet almost half of U.S. adults with private health insurance are not visiting PCPs for routine care or sick visits, a new study suggests.1

Between 2008 and 2016, the number of annual primary care visits for every 100 people declined by 22%, from 169.5 to 134.3, according to the study, whose lead author was Dr. Ishani Ganguli of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Over that same period, the proportion of adults who didn't see primary care providers at all rose from 38% to 46%.

A PCP is usually a doctor, but can also be a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. It’s the one medical professional who knows your health history in depth.

They focus on the basics like preventive screenings and routine checkups, and refer you to specialists if needed. They also can help manage chronic diseases if you have any.

  • The study found that the steepest decline in primary care visits was among the youngest, healthiest individuals. The proportion of adults ages 18 to 34 without any primary care visits in a year rose from 48% to 57% during the study.
  • Among the oldest people in the study, ages 55 to 64, the proportion without primary care visits climbed from 27% to 34%.

Why are regular PCP checkups important?

“Regular checkups with a PCP are important because they help make sure you receive the right health services so you can live a healthier life,” said Raj Hazarika, MD, medical director, Tufts Health Plan. “Your PCP can help find health problems early, before symptoms start.

“Another valuable role of the PCP is to coordinate your care,” he said. “If you have a complicated medical problem and need to see multiple specialists, it’s the job of your PCP to know what each of them is doing so that tests or procedures are not duplicated.”

In Massachusetts, the issue of primary care is receiving considerable news coverage. The state Health Policy Commission recently called on policymakers, government agencies and health care leaders to take a series of steps aimed at addressing rising health care costs.2 Among the new recommendations is a call for the state to "take action to increase spending on primary and behavioral health care." Lawmakers are reviewing a Gov. Charlie Baker bill that would require providers and payers to boost their spending in those areas by 30% over three years.

"There is now growing and considerable evidence that health care systems that are oriented toward primary care provide greater value and access to patients," said David Seltz, the commission's executive director during a recent meeting.

Put primary care to work for you

If you don’t have a PCP, we encourage you to find one today. If not for your own good health, do it for the ones you love. Need help finding a PCP? Call member services at the phone number on your ID card and they’ll be happy to assist you.

  1. Reuters News – “Even with insurance, fewer Americans seeing primary care providers,” Feb. 3. 2020
  2. Worcester Telegram & Gazette; State House News Service -- “Mass. health care panel urges focus on primary care,” Feb. 6, 2020