Family Physicians Are the Main Source of Primary Health Care for the Medicare Population

One Pagers | Dec 01, 2002 James Mold, MD, MPH; Ed Fryer, PhD; Robert Phillips, MD, MSPH; Susan Dovey, MD, MPH; Larry Green, MD

Of people 65 years and older who reported an individual provider as their usual source of health care, 60 percent identified a family physician or general practitioner. The Medicare population relies heavily on family physicians.

The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) is a national survey sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The 1996 MEPS is the most recent one for which usual source of care data are available. On this survey, 91 percent of respondents 65 years and older reported having a usual source of health care. Seventy-two percent of them identified an individual, and 28 percent identified a facility (clinic, hospital, etc.). Respondents who named an individual as their usual source of health care were most likely to name a family physician or general practitioner (FP/GP). The next most frequently identified providers were general internists (IM).

Family physicians were also significantly more likely than other specialists to be identified as the usual source of care for rural elders, Hispanic elders, and elders with less than a high school education.

These findings suggest that family physicians are the predominant usual source of care for the Medicare population in the United States, particularly underserved minority populations and those living in rural areas. This has implications for the future training, distribution, and funding of family physicians.

The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the AAFP. 

Published in American Family Physician, Dec 1, 2002. Am Fam Physician. 2002;66:2032. This series is coordinated by Sumi Sexton, MD, AFP Associate Medical Editor.