The study also found that only 60 percent of family doctors accept new patients—down from 65 percent in 2008 and 70 percent in 2007. For those able to get through the door, the Society reported that the waiting period to get an appointment with a family doc increased from thirty-six days in 2008 to forty-four now. The wait to see internal medicine specialists shortened a bit, but for the first time Massachusetts reported shortages of OB/GYNs, who many women use as their primary care providers. The Society also reported that nearly seventy percent of physicians said they had trouble referring patients to specialists. “With our state health reform initiative, we quickly learned that universal coverage doesn’t equate to universal access,” Dr. Mario Motto, the Society’s president, told the Times.

All this, of course, is not news to people in Massachusetts who must wait or go without care, or to outreach workers who deal with those frustrations. Last fall, Community Partners surveyed its Health Access Network of 1,200 workers who help state residents find coverage. They, too, reported that people were not able to see doctors and that there was really little choice of providers, showing that in the Bay State (and elsewhere) the mantra of choice is more useful as political slogan than an as an actuality. One worker said that finding a doctor who takes the cheapest plan subsidized through the Connector, the state’s brokerage service, is not always easy. Nor is it easy for people now eligible for the state’s expanded Medicaid coverage to find a physician who will accept the insurance they have.

Last winter on The Daily Nightly, an MSNBC blog, one comment caught my eye. Dr. Alice D. Barton of North Chatham on Cape Cod explained the doctor problem this way:

The truth of “universal” health care in Massachusetts is that it is not true. I am one of the only physicians in my area who accepts the state health insurance. I actually pay to provide health care for these individuals. If no doctors accept this insurance, how does it provide health care to anyone? Please tell the truth about this.

Hey, the media need to help out with this one. An informative piece by Phil Galewitz for Kaiser News Service examined the chances that the primary care shortage problem would be solved soon. The article didn’t end on a hopeful note, suggesting, as Massachusetts shows, that for too many the promise of health insurance may be little more than a cruel joke. The public needs to know that simply changing insurance company practices—the current goal of health reform—will not bring medical Nirvana. If the media don’t tell them that, who will?

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.