Summary: In the U.S. health care system, primary care is often overlooked by companies and investors in search of profit from more remunerative specialty care. As a result, it can be challenging for Americans to access primary care. With more for-profit companies entering the primary care market, there are a number of worrisome short and long term implications for cost and access to care.
Can New Players Revive U.S. Primary Care?
Harvard Business Review
Jan 7, 2022
By David Blumenthal
CVS-Aetna, Walgreens, Walmart, Amazon, Optum-United Health Group — they’re all buying primary care practices or hiring primary care practitioners (PCPs) directly. Never before have the titans of capitalism shown such interest in the humble family physician. And therein lies a story with huge but uncertain implications for American health care. This new trend could greatly bolster, or dangerously distort, U.S. primary care, a critical component of a healthy health care system.
Underlying this trend is the fact that primary care in the United States is failing and has been for decades. Millions of Americans have trouble finding or getting access to primary care in a timely and convenient way. Primary care providers are increasingly scarce, even in medical meccas such as Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In rural America, they are downright rare. Among high income countries, Americans are least likely to have a regular doctor or a long-standing relationship with a PCP.
No modern health care system can function without the equivalent of what the family doctor provides. The United States has failed to offer it. Perhaps corporate America can come to the rescue, make a profit, maintain quality, and sustain a vital national service. Whether they succeed could make a huge difference for the future of the U.S. health care system.
Comment by: Eagan Kemp
I am including that last paragraph to highlight just how absurd the popular discussion is around health care in this country. To pretend that we are going to fix the problem of access to primary care by allowing a number of companies to try to come in and profit from it is just absurd. The many and massive failures of our health care system were already evident before the COVID-19 crises and the crisis has underscored that we can’t continue with such a broken system.
No country has built a successful health care system on the foundation of generating profit and revenue for the wealthy and massive corporations. It is anathema to delivering equitable high-quality health care. With decades of experience failing to do so, America remains the cautionary tale that scares other countries from following our failed experiment of putting profit above patients.
If we want to get serious about ensuring everyone in the U.S. can access the primary (and other) care they need, when they need it, we need Medicare for All. By removing the barriers to care, like out-of-pocket costs, and ensuring sufficient funding for primary care providers to serve the needs of their communities, Medicare for All would finally guarantee health care as right. It is time to take profit out of the system and focus on creating a system that costs less while delivering access, quality, and improved health.