Office visits to primary care physicians (PCPs) declined 18 percent from 2012 to 2016 for adults under 65 years old with employer-sponsored health insurance, while office visits to nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) increased 129 percent.
Comparing 2012 to 2016, there were 273 fewer office visits per 1,000 insured individuals to primary care physicians over that span, while visits to nurse practitioners and physician assistants rose from 88 visits per 1,000 insured members to 201. The rate of office visits to specialists and other non-physician providers remained relatively unchanged over the period.
While the utilization of office visits to NPs and PAs increased dramatically over the study period, the substitution did not result in cost savings. Since 2012, the average cost of an office visit to a primary care physician remained closely aligned with the cost of a NP and PA visit. In 2016, the average cost per visit to a primary care physician was $106 compared to $103 for an office visit to a NP or PA.
Every state saw declines in office visits to PCPs and an increase in office visits to NPs and PAs between 2012 and 2016.