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Has Obamacare caused overcrowding in hospitals and doctors’ offices?

Probably not, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens over the next few years.

Obamacare has added 16.9 million people to the health insurance system. That’s a lot of people who all of a sudden have fewer financial barriers standing between them and a doctor visit. But keep in mind two things when thinking about that.

First, the health insurance system already has hundreds of millions of people. In that context, the addition of 25 million people is sizable but relatively small increase in the insured population.

Second, plenty of uninsured people were going to the doctor before they gained coverage — although research tells us they’ll probably go to the doctor even more now that they have a health plan. This is only to say that these newly-insured people aren’t necessarily new to the health care system. Most research on Massachusetts doesn’t show any clear evidence of longer wait times or reduced access when the state expanded insurance coverage in 2006.

Right now, we’re still getting initial evidence on how the national expansion has effected doctors. One recent study, which pulled data from 16,000 doctors’ records, showed no significant increase in new patient appointments last year.

The proportion of new patient visits to primary care doctors increased from 22.6 percent in 2013 to 22.9 percent in 2014. And the people who showed up didn’t seem to be significantly sicker; it didn’t seem as if they had unmanageable health problems that they’d put off treating until they gained an insurance plan.

”We found no evidence that patient complexity increased in 2014,” the report from medical record company AthenaHealth finds. “Physician work intensity per visit remained flat, diagnoses per visit increased slightly, and the percentage of visits with high-complexity evaluation and management codes actually decreased slightly.”

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