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Effects of Changes in Incomes and Practice Circumstances on Physicians' Decisions to Treat Charity and Medicaid Patients

March 2008
The Milbank Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 1
Peter J. Cunningham, Jack Hadley

Context: The decline over the past decade in the percentage of physicians providing care to charity and Medicaid patients has been attributed to both financial pressure and the changing practice environment. Policymakers should be concerned about these trends, since private physicians are a major source of medical care for low-income persons. This study examines how changes in physicians’ practice income, ownership, and size affect their decisions to stop or start treating charity care and Medicaid patients.

Methods: This study uses panel data from four rounds of the Community Tracking Study Physician Survey. The dependent variables are the likelihood of physicians’ (1) dropping charity care, (2) starting to provide charity care, (3) no longer accepting new Medicaid patients, and (4) starting to accept new Medicaid patients. The primary independent variables are changes in physicians’ practice income, ownership, and practice type/size. Multivariate analysis controls for the effects of other physician practice characteristics, health policies, and health care market factors.

Findings: A decline in physicians’ income increased the likelihood that a physician would stop accepting new Medicaid patients but had no effect on his or her decision to provide charity care. Those physicians who switched from being owners to employees or from small to larger practices were more likely to drop charity care and to start accepting Medicaid patients, and physicians who made the opposite practice changes did the reverse.

Conclusions: Changes in their income and practice arrangements make physicians less willing to accept Medicaid and uninsured patients. Moreover, physicians moving into different practice arrangements treat charity and Medicaid patients as substitutes rather than as similar types of patients. To reverse these trends, policymakers should consider raising Medicaid reimbursement rates and subsidizing organizations that encourage private physicians to provide charity care.

Access to this journal article is available via the Milbank Quarterly Web site. (Subscription Required)





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The Center for Studying Health System Change Ceased operation on Dec. 31, 2013.