U.S. adults ages 18 to 64 made an average of 3.9 visits to physicians and other health care providers in 2010, down from an average of 4.8 visits in 2001, according to a report released Monday by the Census Bureau, the New York Times reports.
Possible Contributing Factors
Brett O'Hara, a co-author of the report and a Census staffer, said the reasons for the decline are unclear. However, there are several possible explanations, including:
- Increases in the share of uninsured working-age people;
- Increased patient costs (Tavernise, New York Times, 10/1);
- Physician shortages (Lloyd, USA Today, 10/1);
- Innovation allowing providers to accomplish more in a single visit; and
- More medications becoming available without a prescription (Cunningham, Washington Times, 10/1).
The increase in the uninsured population -- 21.8% of U.S. residents ages 18 to 64 were uninsured in 2010, compared with 17% in 2001 -- might have contributed heavily to the findings, as just 24% of uninsured individuals visited a doctor at least once in 2010.
In comparison, 72% of U.S. residents ages 18 to 64 visited a physician at least once in 2010 (New York Times, 10/1). Further, the percentage of uninsured people who received routine checkups decreased to 11.7% in 2010, from 13.5% in 2001 (USA Today, 10/1).
Income also played a role, according to the report. For example, nearly 40% of low-income individuals did not visit a doctor in 2010, compared with 19% of people with higher incomes.
Meanwhile, the report also found racial disparities. Hispanics were the least likely to seek health care -- 42% did not visit a doctor in 2010, compared with 23% of whites and 30% of blacks.
Despite the decreasing number of physician visits, about 66% of U.S. residents reported being in good or excellent health (New York Times, 10/1).
Department of Labor Survey
Although physician visits have declined, health care spending has increased substantially in the past 10 years, according to a Department of Labor survey, the Times' "Economix" reports.
After adjusting for inflation, the average U.S. household spent $3,313 on health care in 2011 -- or 6.7% of their total expenses -- compared with $2,771 in 2001.
The report also found that almost every category of health spending increased. Spending on medical services increased by 3.1%, to $768, from 2010 to 2011. Insurance spending increased by 1.8%, to $1,922, during that period, while medical supply spending increased by 9.2%, to $134.
However, prescription and nonprescription drug spending declined by 2.3%, to $489 (Rampell, "Economix," New York Times, 10/1).