Effects of being uninsured on ethnic minorities' management of chronic illness

West J Med. 2001 Jul;175(1):19-23. doi: 10.1136/ewjm.175.1.19.


Objective: To compare the effectiveness with which insured and uninsured persons with chronic illnesses managed their health care.

Design: Recruited volunteers diagnosed with a variety of chronic illnesses who underwent 3 semistructured interviews in a 1-year period.

Setting: Volunteers were recruited through referrals, flyers, and face-to-face contacts from community health clinics, senior centers, acute care hospitals, and home care services in 2 urban counties in California between December 1997 and December 2000.

Participants: A total of 297 persons between the ages of 23 and 97 years (35% African American, 33% Latino, and 32% Filipino American), of whom 42 (14%) had no health insurance.

Main outcome measures: Qualitative analysis of interview data compared insured and uninsured respondents on a series of components of chronic illness management, including control over illness, frequency of health crises, procuring medication, use of medication, understanding of the illness, knowledge of self-care measures, and awareness of risk factors. Whether respondents were under the care of a regular physician was also assessed.

Results: Compared with insured respondents, uninsured respondents were much less effective at managing their illnesses. The uninsured had poorly controlled illnesses, frequent health crises, difficulty procuring medication, used medication incorrectly, demonstrated poor understanding of their illness, and displayed little knowledge of self-care measures or risk awareness. They rarely had a regular physician or attended a specific health clinic.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that not only did uninsured persons with chronic health conditions lack adequate health care, their illnesses were also poorly controlled. Inadequately educated about their health, uninsured persons lacked the information, insight, and tools that would have allowed them to manage their illnesses more effectively.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • California
  • Chronic Disease / economics*
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Medically Uninsured*
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups*