Loss of health insurance and the risk for a decline in self-reported health and physical functioning

Med Care. 2002 Nov;40(11):1126-31. doi: 10.1097/00005650-200211000-00013.


Background: Millions of Americans are intermittently uninsured. The health consequences of this are not known.

Setting: National survey.

Participants: Six thousand seventy-two participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) age 51 to 61 years old with private insurance in 1992.

Measurements: Loss of insurance coverage between 1992 and 1992 and development of a major decline in overall health or a new physical difficulty between 1994 and 1996.

Results: In 1994, 5768 (95.0%) people continued to have private insurance, 229 (3.8%) reported having lost all insurance, and 75 (1.2%) converted to having only public insurance. Over the subsequent 2 years (1994-1996), the risk for a major decline in overall health was 15.6% for those who lost all insurance versus 7.2% for those with continuous private insurance (P <0.001). After adjusting for baseline sociodemographics, health behaviors, and health status, the adjusted relative risk for a major decline in health for those who lost coverage was 1.82 (95% CI, 1.25-2.59) compared with those with continuous private insurance. Those who lost insurance also had a higher risk for developing a new mobility difficulty compared with those with continuous private insurance (28.5% vs. 20.4%, respectively; P= 0.02), but this was not significant in multivariate analysis (adjusted RR, 1.26; 95% CI, 0.90-1.68).

Conclusions: Loss of insurance has adverse health consequences even within 2 years after becoming uninsured. Studies of insurance coverage should routinely measure the number of Americans uninsured at any time over the preceding 2 years as a more accurate measure of the population at risk from being uninsured.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Medically Uninsured / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk
  • Self Efficacy