Wall Street Journal: Americans Cut Back on Visits to Doctor
Insured Americans are using fewer medical services, raising questions about whether patients are consuming less health care as they pick up a greater share of the costs.
The drop in usage is showing up as health-care companies report financial results. Insurers, lab-testing companies, hospitals and doctor-billing concerns say that patient visits, drug prescriptions and procedures were down in the second quarter from year-ago levels.
"People just aren't using health-care like they have," said Wayne DeVeydt, WellPoint Inc.'s chief financial officer, in an interview Wednesday. "Utilization is lower than we expected, and it's unusual." ...
... Continued weak demand could eventually put downward pressure on spiralling health-care costs, a long-sought goal of policy makers. It could also force insurers to lower premiums.
The new trend comes amid a broader drop in health-care use as more Americans lose their jobs and their health insurance. Such cutbacks have happened before in recessions, but the drop seems to be more pronounced this time, industry analysts say.
More Americans also are buying high-deductible health plans that force them to bear more of the upfront costs for health services. Some 18 million Americans bought high-deductible plans this year, compared with 13 million last year, according to Paul Mango, a director at consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
At the beginning of the year, Dan and Natalie Johnson, of Gig Harbor, Wash., used the website eHealthInsurance.com to buy a new plan with a high deductible, now set at $5,500 for their family. Their previous coverage had no deductible.
Now, the couple says they are thinking twice before scheduling doctor visits. Recently, when their 16-year-old daughter's allergy prescription ran out, Ms. Johnson called the allergist's office to ask for a renewal, without coming in for an appointment, as she would have done under their previous insurance. ...
... People are "visiting fewer primary care doctors and specialists," said Chief Executive Tom Ryan, in a conference call with analysts. ...
WOONSOCKET, R.I. (Jul. 28) Fewer physician visits have contributed to a lift in visits to MinuteClinic as patients look for convenient and cost-effective access to healthcare services.
"Recent reports by IMS have indicated that fewer people are visiting doctors. We see this data on the fourth quarter versus the first quarter of this year, and we are expecting to see the same in the second quarter," Tom Ryan, chairman and CEO of CVS Caremark, told analysts during Wednesday morning's second-quarter conference call. "[Patients] are visiting fewer primary care doctors and specialists. Obviously, the sluggish economy and continued high unemployment has impacted peoples' ability to afford physician visits."
Clearly, this trend, coupled with MinuteClinic's expansion of service offerings and increased awareness, has helped drive the MinuteClinic business, as people in need of convenient and affordable health care take advantage of MinuteClinic's portfolio of roughly 500 clinics in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
MinuteClinic visits rose 36% during the second quarter, according to Ryan. That is significant growth, especially since last year included the impact of H1N1. "We believe that MinuteClinic's strong growth reflects our expansion of services and the improved awareness around our clinical offerings," Ryan said.
As previously reported by Drug Store News, MinuteClinic has been working to increase the number of services offered, specifically those services for patients with chronic illnesses. For example, in April, the clinic operator announced the introduction of its health-condition monitoring services, dubbed Monitoring Made Easy, for patients with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and asthma.