Background: The Canadian health care system has striven to remove financial or other barriers to access to medically necessary health care services since the establishment of the Canada Health Act 20 years ago. Evidence has been conflicting as to what extent the Canadian health care system has met this goal of equitable access. The objective of this study was to examine whether and where socioeconomic inequities in health care utilization occur in Canada.
Methods: We used a nationally representative cross-sectional survey, the 2000/01 Canadian Community Health Survey, which provides a large sample size (about 110,000) and permits more comprehensive adjustment for need indicators than previous studies. We separately examined general practitioner, specialist, and hospital services using two-part hurdle models: use versus non-use by logistic regression, and the intensity of use among users by zero-truncated negative binomial regression.
Results: We found that lower income was associated with less contact with general practitioners, but among those who had contact, lower income and education were associated with greater intensity of use of general practitioners. Both lower income and education were associated with less contact with specialists, but there was no statistically significant relationship between these socioeconomic variables and intensity of specialist use among the users. Neither income nor education was statistically significantly associated with use or intensity of use of hospitals.
Conclusion: Our study unveiled possible socioeconomic inequities in the use of health care services in Canada.