Corporate giants are snapping up primary care providers (2023)


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Large health insurers and others are particularly fond of groups of doctors who care for patients on private health insurance plans.

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Corporate giants are snapping up primary care providers (1)

DoorRitter Abelson

Not surprisingly, the shortage of primary care physicians, who are critical to Americans' health, is worsening.

They work in one of the lowest paid and most disreputable fields of medicine. Most are overworked, seeing as many as 30 people a day; figuring out when a sore throat is a strep infection or managing a patient's chronic diabetes.

So why are billion-dollar companies, especially health insurance giants, gobbling up primary care services? CVS Health paid about $11 billion for its massive pharmacy business and ownership of major insurer Aetnaopen the doorOak Street Health, a fast-growing chain of primary care centers, employs physicians in 21 states. And Amazon boldly acquired One Medical, another large physician groupnearly $4 billion, Another move.

The appeal is simple: Despite their low status, primary care physicians oversee large numbers of patients, generating business and profits for hospital systems, health insurers or pharmacies seeking to expand.

There's an added lure: The increasing privatization of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for older Americans, means more than half of its 60 million beneficiaries are already signed up with private insurers under Medicare Advantage plans. policy. The federal government now pays these insurers $400 billion a year.

"It's a lot of money that everyone is chasing," said Erin C. Fuse Brown, director of Georgia State University's Center for Law, Health and Society and author of The New England Journal of Medicine.articleBusiness investments in primary health care. "It's a one-stop shop for all your medical expenses," she says.

Many doctors say they just became employees. "We're seeing this loss of autonomy," said Dr. Dan Moore, who recently decided to open his own practice in Henrico, Virginia, to have a bigger impact on patient care. "You don't become a doctor who spends an average of seven minutes with a patient," he said.

The consolidation of doctors' offices is part of a massive, accelerating consolidation of health care that puts patients in the hands of fewer and fewer large corporations or hospital groups. Many are already patient insurers and control drug distribution by owning pharmacy chains or managing pharmacy franchises. But according to one person, almost seven in 10 doctors are now employed by hospitals or companiesrecentAnalyzed by Physician Protection Institute.

The companies said the new arrangement would lead to better, more coordinated care for patients, but some experts warned that the integration would lead to higher prices and a system driven by profits rather than patient welfare.


Insurance companies say their purchases are a step toward so-called value-based care, in which insurers and doctors pay a flat fee for each patient's care. Fixed fees act as a financial incentive to keep patients healthy, provide better access to early care, and reduce hospitalizations and costly specialist visits.

The companies say they prefer flat fees to the current system, which pays doctors and hospitals for each test and treatment, encouraging doctors to order too many procedures.

Under Medicare Advantage, doctors typically share profits with insurance companies if they take on the financial risk of caring for patients, earning more if they can save money on treatment. Primary care physicians can be paid up to $14,000 a year treating a patient, rather than a few hundred dollars per office visit.

But experts warn that these large acquisitions threaten the personal nature of the doctor-patient relationship, especially if the parent company has the power to impose limits on services from the first visit to an extended hospital stay. Once registered, these new customers can be directed to chain affiliates, such as CVS pharmacies or Amazon's online pharmacy.

UnitedHealth Group is a common example of integrated services. It owns the largest U.S. insurer with nearly 50 million customers and oversees its expanding subsidiary Optum, which buys physician networks and medical sites. Optum can refer patients from any of its roughly 70,000 physicians to any of its emergency or surgery centers.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize some of the large deals regulators have so far failed to block on antitrust grounds. "My concern is that the acquisition of thousands of independent providers by a few large healthcare giants could reduce local or national competition, harm patients and increase healthcare costs," she said.wroteRegulators in March.

This integration of health care could also violate state laws that ban so-called occupational medicine. Such regulations prevent companies that employ doctors from interfering with patients' treatment.

Experts have warned of possible harm to patients as company management tries to control costs through a complex system that requires prior authorization to receive care.


For example, Kaiser Permanente, a large nonprofit health plan that also has a physician group,Settles Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for Nearly $2.9 MillionAlong with Ken Flach's family last year, the former tennis player contracted pneumonia and died of sepsis after Kaiser's nurses and doctors refused to take him to the doctor or to the emergency room despite his wife's urgent pleas. Kaiser said the medical decision was made by his health care provider in consultation with the patient, and said he "felt my deepest sympathies to the Flack family."

Oversight that does not benefit patients also plagues doctors. "They're trying to run it like a business, but it's not a business," said Dr. Beth Kozak, a physician in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Its team of physicians has partnered with investor-owned Agilon Health to implement the Medicare Advantage plan. Dr. Kozak said she needs to work more hours, not to provide better care, but to provide patients with additional diagnostics and increased federal reimbursement under the Medicare Advantage program. "It's not because I'm providing better patient care," she said. - Everything depends on payment.

Business spending on health care continues to grow. Walgreens Boots Alliance, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the United States,spend$5 billion to buy a majority stake in primary care group VillageMD and team up with Cigna to buy another medical group for nearly $9 billion. In addition to direct purchases, UnitedHealth is partnering with Walmart to provide care to elderly patients.

CVS Health Chief Executive Karen S. Lynch touted investors on the benefits of buying Oak Street Clinics, saying primary care physicians are reducing healthcare costs. "Primary care drives patient engagement and positive clinical outcomes," she said.

Many of these companies have established chain clinics. On a recent visit to the Oak Street Clinic in Bushwick, one of 16 centers that have opened in New York since October 2020, patients typically come in between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., with a nurse answering after hours question.

Ann Greiner, executive director of the nonprofit Primary Care Collaborative, defended private companies' recent forays into health care, saying they provide much-needed funding and access to care for people in underserved areas. Can be improved.


"People in these programs are paid more," she said. "In many of these packages, they provide a wider range of care. They provide more technology and more team care. Those are investments."

But the deals also risk tipping the balance from quality treatments to profits, she said.

In recent years, some have challenged these large private practices, citing laws banning occupational medicine. Envision Healthcare, a private equity-backed company that employs emergency physicians, has been sued in California by a chapter of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, which supports independent practice, and is accused of violating the state's rules.

"Envision exercises total and pervasive direct and indirect control and/or influence over the physician's medical practice," he said.litigation.The suit says Envision Energy is responsible for billing medical bills and making medical agreements.

While Envision would not comment on the lawsuit, it said it "follows an operating structure common in the healthcare industry and widely used by nonprofits, private and public groups, as well as hospitals and insurance companies."

Large insurers in particular find physician groups attractive, although many report heavy losses. Buying Oak Street, which has lost more than $1 billion over the past three years, could help CVS's Medicare Advantage plans improve their quality, or "star" rating, and boost payments for one of the plans.

Even a small number of patients can bring in substantial income. One Medical, an Amazon-owned company, is known for its sleek clinics. The company has a practice that specializes in Medicare Advantage. Only about 5% of One Medical's 836,000 members are enrolled in the federal program, but about half of its revenue comes from that small group of patients, according to 2022 financial reports.

Regulators are already flagging questionable methods used in some practices. November 2021,Oak Street says DOJ is investigatingSales gimmicks such as free trips to his clinic and paying insurance agents for referrals. A doctor at one center described recruiting patients with "gift cards, presents and bags," according to a shareholder lawsuit against Oak Street.


The lawsuit details doctors inflating federal payments by exaggerating patients' conditions.

Oak Street said the Justice Department had not accused them of wrongdoing, calling the lawsuit "baseless."

These private Medicare Advantage plans areharsh criticismMake huge profits by inflating costs and exaggerating the condition of patients in order to charge the government more than they should.

undernew rulesA Biden administration would eliminate some of the most problematic, overused diagnoses, potentially reducing revenue for doctors and insurance companies.

But other avenues to profit also explain why companies covet these jobs. Unlike insurers' profit limits, which require Medicare Advantage insurers to spend at least 85 cents of every dollar spent on patient care, there's no limit to the profits those doctor's offices and pharmacy chains can make.

It may be too early to determine whether integrated care will improve patient health. "So far, if you look at the industry as a whole, the results of these acquisitions have been mixed," Dr. Sachin H. Jain, CEO of SCAN Group, a Long Beach, California-based nonprofit that provides Medicare Advantage. plan.

And those investments can't stop the rapid disappearance of doctors, many of whom are still looking for doctors for their daily care, including a recentrelationIndicates that fewer and fewer medical school graduates go to that area.

"We're dealing with an incredible level of burnout in this industry," said Dr. Mark Cohen, who practices near Portland, Oregon. Since the start of the pandemic, his low-income patients have gotten sicker and disease levels have "surge," he said.


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Why is there a shortage of primary care providers worldwide? ›

High debt contributes to physician shortages in rural and underserved areas by driving new physicians to seek higher-paying positions in larger cities.

Who are the industry disruptors in primary care? ›

The AHA's "Health Care Disruption: 2023 Outlook" examines how seven of the biggest disruptors--Amazon, CVS Health, UnitedHealth Group, the Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Walmart, and tech companies Apple and Google/Alphabet—has staked their claim in primary care, and used that platform to expand.

Can retailers payers and startups capture 30% of primary care market by 2030? ›

New models of primary care will capture 30% of the US market by 2030 as retailers, payer-owned providers and advanced primary care disruptors gain traction.

Why is the primary care shortage bad? ›

The Impact on Patient Care

Additionally, the quality of care is decreasing because patients have less time with their physicians. Due to the primary care shortage, some patients are ignoring health issues, thereby running the risk of exacerbating them.

Does the U.S. have a shortage of primary care physicians? ›

The US is expected to face a shortage of primary care physicians ranging from 21,000 to 55,000 by the year 2033. Both patients and doctors are getting older. As patients age, they tend to need more care from their PCPs to address the proliferation of medical problems and medications that inevitably comes with aging.

Is primary care declining? ›

The last 100 years have seen an astonishing drop in the percentage of American physicians who practiced primary care. In the early 1930s, 87% of private practice physicians were in general care; by the early 1960s, this percentage had dropped to 50%.

Who is the most responsible provider in primary care? ›

The term most responsible physician (MRP), or most responsible practitioner, generally refers to the physician, or other regulated healthcare professional, who has overall responsibility for directing and coordinating the care and management of a patient at a specific point in time.

What are the most common complaints in primary care? ›

Adult Primary Care
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Allergies.
  • Anxiety.
  • Asthma management.
  • Back pain.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Constipation.
  • Cough.

Is primary care a loss leader? ›

Health Care industry

Competition for these assets has intensified, despite primary care's loss-leader status for many systems across the country. However, the way executives approach their primary care growth strategy likely needs to change.

What is the success rate of healthcare startups? ›

The failure rate for medical startups should not come as a surprise either. As of 2019, startup failure rates were around 90%; 21.5% of startups fail in the first year, 30% in the second year, 50% in the fifth year, and 70% by Year 10.

Which is the fastest growing segment of the healthcare industry? ›

Fastest-Growing Industry Sectors in Healthcare: 2021
  • Total national health expenditures.
  • Dental services.
  • Durable medical equipment.
  • Government administration.
  • Health insurance (based on net cost)
  • Home healthcare.
  • Hospitals.
  • Nursing-care facilities/continuing care retirement communities.

What is the outlook for the primary care industry? ›

How big is the U.S. primary care physicians market? b. The U.S. primary care physicians market size was estimated at USD 266.0 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach USD 271.0 billion in 2023.

What percent of Americans don't have primary care? ›

A third of Americans don't have a primary care provider, report finds.

What are the issues with primary care in America? ›

Problems facing primary care

Many of the issues and concerns raised in the past few years remain—namely, dissatisfaction, long hours, high stress, poor reimbursement, and erosion of scope of practice.

Why are doctors quitting? ›

This is not to be debated! Many physicians are retiring due to age, and others have accepted early retirement as their best option with the current state of health care. Beyond those retiring, it is concerning how many young physicians are leaving medicine and no longer want to stay in the current health care system.

What states have the highest doctor shortage? ›

California, Florida and Texas are the three states expected to have the greatest estimated physician shortage by 2030, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Library of Medicine.

How large will the shortage of primary care physicians be? ›

Experts predict that the U.S. will be short between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.

How would you solve the primary care crisis? ›

Have the government cover the cost of medical school for students who devote ten years or more to primary care. Provide more CMS residency subsidies to primary care fields. Encourage direct primary care models. Create “Primary Care Trusts” that provide state-based universal coverage for primary care.

Are primary care physicians overworked? ›

A new study published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine shows how overworked primary care physicians are: if they followed all guidelines on the recommendations concerning preventive care, chronic diseases, treatment, and taking care of an average number of patients, their workday would last more than 24 ...

Is primary care overlooked? ›

Primary care serves as the cornerstone in a strong healthcare system. However, it has long been overlooked in the United States (USA), and an imbalance between specialty and primary care exists.

Why are primary care doctors burned out? ›

Physician burnout is largely attributed to organizational and systemic factors. Research has illustrated that EHRs and other administrative burdens largely contribute to physician burnout and frustration. “It's been said that people don't leave their jobs. They leave their bosses,” says Dr.

Is the primary care provider also called a gatekeeper? ›

Primary care physicians are generally considered gatekeepers of patient treatment in health insurance. In long-term care, gatekeepers are requirements that must be met before an individual can receive payouts from their insurance plans.

Which two healthcare plans typically require patients to see a primary care physician? ›

HMO and PPO plans are the most common on the market today. Less common are point-of-service (POS) plans that combine the features of an HMO and a PPO. HMOs require that you select a primary care physician (PCP) who is responsible for managing and coordinating all of your health care.

Who assists physician in primary care of patients? ›

Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions.

What are the 5 C's of primary care? ›

We enhanced the “4 Cs” Primary Care Model (first contact; comprehensive care; continuous care; coordinated care) with the addition of 5 more Cs: physician credibility, collaborative learning, cost-effectiveness, capacity expansion, and career satisfaction.

What are the 4 C's of primary care? ›

The four primary care (PC) core functions (the '4Cs', ie, first contact, comprehensiveness, coordination and continuity) are essential for good quality primary healthcare and their achievement leads to lower costs, less inequality and better population health.

What is the most common DX in primary care? ›

Top 10 most common diagnoses from primary care physicians (PCPs) in 2021
RankICD-10 CodeICD-10 Description
1I10Essential (primary) hypertension
2E785Hyperlipidemia, unspecified
3E119Type 2 diabetes mellitus without complications
4Z0000Encounter for general adult medical examination without abnormal findings
6 more rows

What is the opposite of primary care provider? ›

Primary care is when you consult with your primary care provider. Secondary care is when you see a specialist such as an oncologist or endocrinologist. Tertiary care refers to specialized care in a hospital setting such as dialysis or heart surgery. Quaternary care is an advanced level of specialized care.

What is the best loss leader examples? ›

Some examples of typical loss leaders include milk, eggs, rice, and other inexpensive items that grocers would not want to sell without the customer making other purchases.

What is loss leader tactics? ›

Loss leader pricing is a marketing strategy that prices products lower than the cost to produce them in order to attract new customers or to sell additional products to customers. Companies typically use loss leader pricing when they are entering new markets or attempting to increase market share.

Who has the most efficient healthcare system? ›

South Korea. South Korea tops the list of best healthcare systems in the world. It's been praised for being modern and efficient, with quality, well-equipped medical facilities and highly trained medical professionals. Generally, treatment in South Korea is affordable and readily available.

What is the most profitable healthcare business? ›

You can open a small venture, a moderate firm, or a large business in the healthcare sector. Some of the most profitable healthcare business ideas are: Medical business services, online pharmacy, healthcare record management, transcribing services, mobile apps, and much more.

What is the most profitable sector in healthcare? ›

Best Profitable Healthcare Business Ideas
  1. Medical Equipment Sales. ...
  2. Medical Billing Services. ...
  3. Medical Transcription Services. ...
  4. Veterinary Clinic. ...
  5. Health Insurance Specialist. ...
  6. Online Healthcare Business. ...
  7. Medical Billing Software Development.
Jul 26, 2022

What is the healthcare problem in 2023? ›

The US healthcare industry faces demanding conditions in 2023, including recessionary pressure, continuing high inflation rates, labor shortages, and endemic COVID-19.

Who is the largest consumer of healthcare? ›

The U.S. continues to spend the most on healthcare per person, even though outcomes and quality of care is not often ranked highest.

What are the problems in health care in 2023? ›

10 Emerging Public Health Issues of 2023
  • Public Health Authority. ...
  • Public Health Workforce Shortage. ...
  • Public Health Spending. ...
  • Health Equity. ...
  • E-Cigarettes. ...
  • Climate Change. ...
  • The Environment. ...
Feb 10, 2023

What will primary care look like in the future? ›

Digital engagement has the potential for bringing those patients back, as innovations such as telehealth enable the physician to reach patients in their homes or at work or anywhere in between. Remote care, with its convenience and safety, is one of the major drivers of the future of primary care.

How big is the US primary care market? ›

Primary Care Physicians Market size surpassed USD 620 billion in 2021 and is projected to expand at a CAGR of over 3% between 2022 and 2030.

Who has the least access to healthcare in America? ›

Despite these coverage gains, disparities in coverage persisted as of 2021. Nonelderly American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) and Hispanic people had the highest uninsured rates at 21.2% and 19.0%, respectively as of 2021.

What percent of Americans can't pay for healthcare? ›

RESULTS. The proportion of Americans with difficulty affording health care varies by income and health insurance coverage. Overall, 16.9% of Americans report at least 1 financial barrier.

Do poor people get healthcare in the US? ›

Compared to higher-income Americans, low-income people face greater barriers to accessing medical care. They are less likely to have health insurance, receive new drugs and technologies, and have ready access to primary and specialty care.

Is there a shortage of primary care doctors in us? ›

According to projections from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there will be a primary care physician shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 doctors by 2034. Significant shortages were also reported among non-primary care specialties.

Does the US have a shortage of primary care physicians? ›

The US is expected to face a shortage of primary care physicians ranging from 21,000 to 55,000 by the year 2033. Both patients and doctors are getting older. As patients age, they tend to need more care from their PCPs to address the proliferation of medical problems and medications that inevitably comes with aging.

Why are so many doctors still in debt? ›

Doctors haven't been trained about financials

Doctors may not understand how daily spending needs to align with overall financial goals, or they may not know how to save the most on taxes. Physicians need the same financial training as the rest of us.

What is a physician salary? ›

Why doctors are paid too much? ›

Supply, Demand, & the Residency Bottleneck

There is no shortage of people who want to become doctors. Rather, there are systems in place that have limited the number of physicians that can be trained each year–the most notable of which is the “residency bottleneck.” This, in turn, has inflated physician salaries.

Why is physician shortage a global issue? ›

Physician shortage is a growing concern in many countries around the world, due to a growing demand for physicians that outmatches the supply. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there is a global shortage of 4.3 million physicians, nurses, and other health professionals.

Why is there a shortage of physicians? ›

For Frankel, the issue boils down to “an increased demand and relatively fixed supply in the physician labor market. Training new physicians is a time-consuming and expensive process, and there are only so many medical schools in the U.S., with so many seats,” and which have not kept up with the demand for physicians.

What is causing the physician shortage? ›

The physician shortage is caused by a myriad of factors, from aging populations to physician burnout. The aging population, increasing complexity in health care technology, and the rise in chronic illnesses have all played a role in contributing to the underlying problem.

Why is there always a shortage of doctors? ›

Bravo says the COVID-19 pandemic burnout among doctors exacerbated the shortage, driving some doctors to cut hours or leave the workforce. The American Medical Association expects a wave of retirements too — a significant portion of the physician workforce is nearing the retirement age.

How can we solve the physician shortage? ›

In this Page
  1. Increase Interest in the Field.
  2. Establish Centers of Excellence.
  3. Integrate Environmental Medicine with Occupational Medicine Training and Research Programs.
  4. Increase Funding for Faculty Development.
  5. Support Residency and Fellowship Training.

Which country has the most shortage of doctors? ›

1. United Kingdom. The UK is facing one of the most severe healthcare worker shortages in the world.

What medical specialities have the most shortage? ›

Here's the projected shortage of physicians by specialty through 2025:
  • Orthopedic surgery: 5,050.
  • Urology: 3,630.
  • General surgery: 2,970.
  • Cardiothoracic surgery: 1,800.
  • Gastroenterology: 1,630.
  • Hematology/Oncology: 1,400.
  • Pulmonology: 1,400.
  • Neurosurgery: 1,200.
Jan 31, 2022

What is the biggest struggle facing physicians? ›

The biggest challenges physicians face working with patients
  1. Patients surprised with visit length. ...
  2. Too many topics at once. ...
  3. Patients unsure what symptoms to report. ...
  4. Patients don't understand medical processes. ...
  5. Inability to consult in a short time. ...
  6. Adding data to EHRs/EMRs. ...
  7. Patients not completing treatment.
May 25, 2022

When did physician shortage start? ›

Concerns over a physician shortage emerged in the early 2000s with the release of multiple state and national assessments of the physician workforce. The concerns have mainly centered on the supply of primary care physicians. However, not everyone agrees on the nature and extent of the problem.

Would universal healthcare cause a doctor shortage? ›

A recent report backed by the Partnership for America's Health Care Future predicts that the physician workforce would decrease by over 44,000 doctors by 2050 under a single-payer system.

What are the top reasons why physicians leave their jobs? ›

Five Reasons Why Doctors Are Quitting Their Jobs
  • 1 — They want a better work/life balance. ...
  • 2 — They spend too much time on administrative tasks. ...
  • 3 — They don't feel supported by their administration. ...
  • 4 — They experience negative public attitudes. ...
  • 5 — They're struggling financially.
Oct 28, 2022

What is one potential solution to the primary care physician shortage in this country? ›

Telemedicine has long been considered a solid solution to physician shortage problems, particularly in countries that have a severely limited supply.

Why are doctors offices so inefficient? ›

The answer is easy to find but hard to rectify: practices give too little attention to the other side of the practice — the office. According to a study from the American Academy of Family Physicians, poor human resource management is one of the leading sources of inefficiency.

What is the difference between a doctor and a physician? ›

The significant distinction between doctors and physicians is that the latter typically have a broader background, whereas doctors specialize in a specific field of practice. A physician can become certified in six years, but doctors frequently need 10 or more years to complete their education.

Is there a shortage of nurses vs doctors? ›

The United States may be short as many as 90,000 physicians by 2025, according to an Association of American Medical Colleges study released in March, and a 2014 report from the American Nurses Association warned that the country will need to produce 1.1 million new nurses by 2022 to fill jobs and replace retirees.


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