The expected increase in demand for healthcare services will rise only slightly once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented – but in areas with already high demand, providers will need to innovate with technology and business reorganization.

That is the conclusion of a new analysis from the Commonwealth Fund

"While the healthcare system appears likely to be able to absorb the increased use of health services by the newly insured, the authors note that health care use varies substantially across the country," Commonwealth Fund executives said. "In areas where people use more healthcare services, it will likely be important to expand access by making greater use of health information technologies like telemedicine, by relying more on nonphysician health professionals such as nurses and physician assistants, and by pooling physicians into group practices."

Study authors Sherry Glied and Stephanie Ma of New York University analyzed trends in expected healthcare use among the newly insured in every state, looking at primary and specialty care, emergency room care, outpatient and inpatient services, and prescription drugs. They estimate that the number of annual primary care visits will increase by 3.8 percent nationally, with 17 states seeing primary care visit increases of more than 4 percent and seven seeing increases greater than 5 percent.

The 3.8 percent average increase represents about 70 additional visits per year per primary care physician across the U.S, or 1.3 visits per week. The authors’ estimates assume that all states will ultimately expand Medicaid.

They also estimate, assuming full implementation of the ACA, including Medicaid expansion in states, that:

*Emergency room visits will rise 2.2 percent nationally.

*Outpatient hospital visits will increase 2.6 percent nationally.

*Inpatient hospital visits will increase 3.1 percent nationally.

*Prescription drug use/refill increases will be under 2.5 percent in nearly every state.

“Millions of people have gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and early indicators are that these people are satisfied with their coverage and able to get the health care they need,” Glied, dean and professor of public service at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, said. “These study findings suggest that pattern should continue after the law’s full implementation.”

The report is available here.

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