Background: By requiring or encouraging enrollees to obtain a usual source of care, managed care programs hope to improve access to care without incurring higher costs.
Objectives: (1) To examine the effects of managed care on the likelihood of low-income persons having a usual source of care and a usual physician, and; (2) To examine the association between usual source of care and access.
Research design: Cross-sectional survey of households conducted during 1996 and 1997.
Subjects: A nationally representative sample of 14,271 low-income persons.
Measures: Usual source of care, usual physician, managed care enrollment, managed care penetration.
Results: High managed care penetration in the community is associated with a lower likelihood of having a usual source of care for uninsured persons (54.8% vs. 62.2% in low penetration areas) as well as a lower likelihood of having a usual physician (60% vs. 72.8%). Managed care has only marginal effects on the likelihood of having a usual source of care for privately insured and Medicaid beneficiaries. Having a usual physician substantially reduces unmet medical needs for the insured but less so for the uninsured.
Conclusions: Having a usual physician can be an effective tool in improving access to care for low-income populations, although it is most effective when combined with insurance coverage. However, the effectiveness of managed care in linking more low-income persons to a medical home is uncertain, and may have unintended consequences for uninsured persons.