Wait Times Signal Problem with Massachusetts ‘Model’

Published August 1, 2009

It takes three weeks longer to see a medical specialist in Boston than in any other metropolitan area in the country, according to a study by Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a physician recruiting and consulting company based in Texas.

More than 95 percent of the Bay State’s population is insured, as state law requires residents to get coverage and prove they have it. The Merritt, Hawkins researchers note health insurance “doesn’t guarantee a quick visit to the doctor.”

‘Dramatic’ Wait Times

Boston’s wait times “are pretty dramatic,” said firm spokesman Phil Miller. “Even when considering many doctors research rather than treat patients, the fact Massachusetts has the highest number of doctors per-capita in the nation demonstrates a critical disconnect between the number of doctors, the percentage of the population that is insured, and an effective, efficient medical system.”

The average wait time for an appointment with a doctor in many specialty areas is 50 days, according to the study, with the state’s expansion of subsidized health insurance serving as the main catalyst driving up demand for care.

Even Longer Waits Expected

“Increased demand resulting from improved access to care … can be expected to extend doctor appointment wait times in many markets,” the study concluded.

“We’ve added tens of millions of people to the population, and we’ve gotten demographically older, and older people utilize medical services more,” Miller said, “so access will become an even greater concern in the near future.

“Ultimately, the Massachusetts health care debate must enlighten the national debate,” said Miller. “We could have de facto coverage without having true access, but that largely defeats the purpose altogether.”

Whitney Stewart ([email protected]) writes from Minnesota.

For more information …

Merritt, Hawkins & Associates Survey: http://www.merritthawkins.com/pdf/mha2009waittimesurvey.pdf