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Medicare isn't spending much on primary care

Primary care only accounted for between 2.1% and 4.9% of total Medicare spending in 2015, depending on how primary care is defined, according to a new RAND study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: Primary care is a lot cheaper than, say, surgery for a condition that has gotten worse while untreated. We may not know the magic percentage of spending that should go toward primary care, but it's a good thing to consider when we talk about lowering costs.

The big picture: Greater focus on primary care is associated with high quality health care and lower costs.

  • While there's no consensus on what percentage of health care spending should go toward primary care, the RAND estimates are lower than estimates of what other countries spend.

Spending on primary care was lower among beneficiaries who were older, black, Native American, dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, and who had chronic conditions. Rates also varied by state.

Go deeper: 44 million Americans live with a primary care shortage