Context: In 1998, 33 million US adults aged 18 to 64 years lacked health insurance. Determining the unmet health needs of this population may aid efforts to improve access to care.
Objective: To compare nationally representative estimates of the unmet health needs of uninsured and insured adults, particularly among persons with major health risks.
Design and setting: Random household telephone survey conducted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Participants: A total of 105,764 adults aged 18 to 64 years in 1997 and 117,364 in 1998, classified as long-term (>/=1 year) uninsured (9.7%), short-term (<1 year) uninsured (4.3%), or insured (86.0%).
Main outcome measures: Adjusted proportions of participants who could not see a physician when needed due to cost in the past year, had not had a routine checkup within 2 years, and had not received clinically indicated preventive services, compared by insurance status.
Results: Long-term- and short-term-uninsured adults were more likely than insured adults to report that they could not see a physician when needed due to cost (26.8%, 21.7%, and 8.2%, respectively), especially among those in poor health (69.1%, 51.9%, and 21.8%) or fair health (48.8%, 42.4%, and 15.7%) (P<.001). Long-term-uninsured adults in general were much more likely than short-term-uninsured and insured adults not to have had a routine checkup in the last 2 years (42.8%, 22.3%, and 17.8%, respectively) and among smokers, obese individuals, binge drinkers, and people with hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, or human immunodeficiency virus risk factors (P<.001). Deficits in cancer screening, cardiovascular risk reduction, and diabetes care were most pronounced among long-term-uninsured adults.
Conclusions: In our study, long-term-uninsured adults reported much greater unmet health needs than insured adults. Providing insurance to improve access to care for long-term-uninsured adults, particularly those with major health risks, could have substantial clinical benefits. JAMA. 2000;284:2061-2069