Background: The number of adults in their 50s and 60s in the United States who do not have health insurance is increasing. This group may be particularly vulnerable to the ill effects of being uninsured.
Methods: We conducted a prospective cohort study using files from the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey of adults who were 51 to 61 years old in 1992. We determined the risks of a major decline in overall health and of the development of new physical difficulties between 1992 and 1996 for participants who were continuously uninsured (uninsured in 1992 and in 1994), those who were intermittently uninsured (uninsured either in 1992 or in 1994), and those who were continuously insured. We used logistic regression to determine the independent effects of being uninsured on health outcomes after adjustment for base-line sociodemographic factors, preexisting medical conditions, and types of health-related behavior such as smoking and alcohol use.
Results: We analyzed data for 7577 participants. The 717 continuously uninsured participants and the 825 intermittently uninsured participants were more likely than the 6035 continuously insured participants to have a major decline in overall health between 1992 and 1996 (21.6 percent, 16.1 percent, and 8.3 percent of the three groups, respectively; P<0.001 for both comparisons). According to a multivariate analysis, the adjusted relative risk of a major decline in overall health was 1.63 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.26 to 2.08) for continuously uninsured participants and 1.41 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.11 to 1.78) for intermittently uninsured participants, as compared with continuously insured participants. A new difficulty in walking or climbing stairs was also more likely to develop in the continuously or intermittently uninsured participants than in the continuously insured participants (28.8 percent, 26.4 percent, and 17.1 percent of the three groups, respectively; P<0.001 for both comparisons). The adjusted relative risk of such a new physical difficulty was 1.23 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.02 to 1.47) for the continuously uninsured participants and 1.26 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.01 to 1.54) for the intermittently uninsured participants.
Conclusions: The lack of health insurance is associated with an increased risk of a decline in overall health among adults 51 to 61 years old.