Has it become more difficult to book a non-emergency visit with your doctor?

A report suggests that money may be a major reason — primary care doctors aren't earning as much as they'd like in New Jersey, so they're opting to set up shop elsewhere.

A shortage of these doctors is endangering New Jersey residents, according to a report prepared by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute.

The Garden State is near the bottom nationally for its ratio of primary care docs to residents, and New Jersey ranks 48th out of 50 in primary care spending.

"Existing patients often wait months; others struggle to find a doctor who's even taking new patients," said Alfred Tallia, a contributor to the report and chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "Lots of people get no care until small problems grow into emergencies."

Tallia, a family physician, considers primary care doctors to be the "quarterback" in the health care system, but says they make way less than specialists across the U.S.

Doctor pay in NJ

Doctors don't control how they're paid, and that pay differs from state to state. The report notes that New Jersey Medicaid pays primary care doctors half of what Medicare pays. And commercial insurers pay an average of 93% of Medicare rates in New Jersey, while reimbursement averages out at 120% nationwide.

According to 2023 data analyzed by the report, New Jersey has about 5,300 doctors in the primary care fields, such as family medicine and general internal medicine. Just half of them work full-time.

"We've got a primary care crisis that's been years in the making," Tallia said. "We've got to fix it."

The report puts forth recommendations to help end the shortage and give residents easier access to primary care. Among them, raising Medicaid reimbursement rates, and shifting from a fee-for-service model to an advanced system where doctors get money to keep patients well rather than simply treating them when they are sick.

According to advocates, other states have succeeded in easing primary care shortages by adjusting rates.

"New Jersey doesn't have to reinvent the wheel," Tallia said.

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