The aim of this cross sectional study was to investigate whether holding a private health plan affects the consumption of medical services (hospitalization and visits to a doctor) and use of medications by older adults. All residents in Bambuí town (Minas Gerais, Brazil) aged >/= 60 years (n = 1,742) were selected. From these, 92.2% were interviewed and 85.9% were examined (blood tests and physical measurements). After adjustments for worse health status, reported less visits to a doctor, and used a small number of prescribed medications. The main explanation for the aged holding a private health plan was economic, not health. Even though those who had only public health coverage complained more in relation to medical care (70.9%), an important proportion of the aged with a private health care plan presented some kind of complaint (45.2%). Another worrying factor was the difficulty to acquire medication because of financial problems (47.2 and 25.2% reported, respectively). Further investigations are needed to verify whether our results can be generalized to other communities of the country.