Objectives: We comprehensively assessed health care utilization in a population-based sample of homeless adults and matched controls under a universal health insurance system.
Methods: We assessed health care utilization by 1165 homeless single men and women and adults in families and their age- and gender-matched low-income controls in Toronto, Ontario, from 2005 to 2009, using repeated-measures general linear models to calculate risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
Results: Homeless participants had mean rates of 9.1 ambulatory care encounters (maximum = 141.1), 2.0 emergency department (ED) encounters (maximum = 104.9), 0.2 medical-surgical hospitalizations (maximum = 14.9), and 0.1 psychiatric hospitalizations per person-year (maximum = 4.8). Rate ratios for homeless participants compared with matched controls were 1.76 (95% CI = 1.58, 1.96) for ambulatory care encounters, 8.48 (95% CI = 6.72, 10.70) for ED encounters, 4.22 (95% CI = 2.99, 5.94) for medical-surgical hospitalizations, and 9.27 (95% CI = 4.42, 19.43) for psychiatric hospitalizations.
Conclusions: In a universal health insurance system, homeless people had substantially higher rates of ED and hospital use than general population controls; these rates were largely driven by a subset of homeless persons with extremely high-intensity usage of health services.