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West J Med. 1995 Feb;162(2):127-32.

California physicians' willingness to care for the poor.

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Primary Care Research Center, San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center, CA 94143-1364, USA.


Although generalist physicians appear to be more likely than specialists to provide care for poor adult patients, they may still perceive financial and nonfinancial barriers to caring for these patients. We studied generalist physicians' attitudes toward caring for poor patients using focus groups and used the results to design a survey that tested the generalizability of the focus group findings. The focus groups included a total of 24 physicians in 4 California communities; the survey was administered to a random sample of 177 California general internists, family physicians, and general practitioners. The response rate was 70%. Of respondents, 77% accepted new patients with private insurance; 31% accepted new Medicaid patients, and 43% accepted new uninsured patients. Nonwhite physicians were more likely to care for uninsured and Medicaid patients than were white physicians. In addition to reimbursement, nonfinancial factors played an important role in physicians' decisions not to care for Medicaid or uninsured patients. The perception of an increased risk of being sued was cited by 57% of physicians as important in the decision not to care for Medicaid patients and by 49% for uninsured patients. Patient characteristics such as psychosocial problems, being ungrateful for care, and noncompliance were also important. Poor reimbursement was cited by 88% of physicians as an important reason not to care for Medicaid patients and by 77% for uninsured patients. Policy changes such as universal health insurance coverage and increasing the supply of generalist physicians may not adequately improve access to care unless accompanied by changes that address generalist physicians' financial and nonfinancial concerns about providing care for poor patients.

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