Sicker and poorer--the consequences of being uninsured: a review of the research on the relationship between health insurance, medical care use, health, work, and income

Med Care Res Rev. 2003 Jun;60(2 Suppl):3S-75S; discussion 76S-112S. doi: 10.1177/1077558703254101.


Health services research conducted over the past 25 years makes a compelling case that having health insurance or using more medical care would improve the health of the uninsured. The literature's broad range of conditions, populations, and methods makes it difficult to derive a precise quantitative estimate of the effect of having health insurance on the uninsured's health. Some mortality studies imply that a 4% to 5% reduction in the uninsured's mortality is a lower bound; other studies suggest that the reductions could be as high as 20% to 25%. Although all of the studies reviewed suffer from methodological flaws of varying degrees, there is substantial qualitative consistency across studies of different medical conditions conducted at different times and using different data sets and statistical methods. Corroborating process studies find that the uninsured receive fewer preventive and diagnostic services, tend to be more severely ill when diagnosed, and receive less therapeutic care. Other literature suggests that improving health status from fair or poor to very good or excellent would increase both work effort and annual earnings by approximately 15% to 20%.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Services
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics*
  • Health Services Research*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health*
  • Medically Uninsured*
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Preventive Health Services
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology