Study objectives: To compare kinds and amounts of health care used by adults with asthma in managed care and fee-for-service settings.
Design: Cross-sectional structured telephone survey of Northern California adults with asthma from random samples of pulmonologists, allergist-immunologists, family practitioners, and from a random sample of the non-institutionalized population.
Measurements: Validated measures of kind of health insurance plans, kinds and amounts of services used for asthma and other reasons, demographic characteristics, severity of asthma, comorbidity, and overall health and functional status.
Results: Eighty one percent of the 416 adults with asthma studied were in some form of managed care (75% in HMOs and 6% in PPOs). Those in managed care (MC) and fee-for-service (FFS) did not differ substantively in the proportion with a regular source or principal provider of asthma care, with a peak flow meter or action plan, having received instructions in the use of an inhaler, reporting current use of inhaled beta-agonists, home nebulized beta-agonists, or inhaled steroids, or reporting ER visits or flu shots in the year prior to interview. Persons with asthma in MC reported significantly fewer total physician visits (after adjustment, 4.3 MC, 7.1 FFS, difference = 2.8, 95% CI -5.4, -0.1), principally because those in MC had many fewer visits to allergist-immunologists (after adjustment 4.9 MC, 21.4 FFS, difference = -16.5, 95% CI -27.8, -5.3). The two groups did not differ significantly in the proportion with asthma-related or nonasthma hospital admissions.
Conclusions: Persons with asthma in fee-for-service settings reported a greater number of certain kinds of ambulatory visits, particularly visits to allergist-immunologists, for their asthma than those in managed care, but did not differ in the use of the hospital for their asthma and in nonasthma care.