Geography, Income Determine Health Care in U.S., Report Says09/18/13
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Low-income Americans'
access to health care and the quality of care they receive vary
widely based on where they live, according to a new report.
Compared to wealthier people, low-income Americans lose more
teeth, have more asthma flare-ups and miss out on vaccinations and
cancer screenings. They also are less likely to have health
insurance, finds the report, which was released Wednesday by the
Commonwealth Fund, a health policy think tank.
The report provides a state-by-state comparison of health care
for the 39 percent of people with incomes less than 200 percent of
the federal poverty level, or $47,000 for a family of four and
$23,000 for an individual.
"We found repeated evidence that we are often two Americas, divided by income and geography when it comes to opportunities to lead long and healthy lives," report lead author Cathy Schoen, Commonwealth Fund senior vice president, said in an organization news release. "These are more than numbers."
Low-income people account for at least one-quarter of total
state populations, and almost half in some states, including
Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico, according to the
The report authors also compared the quality of health care
received by people with low incomes and higher incomes -- more than
400 percent of the poverty level, or $94,000 for a family of four
-- and found major disparities by income in each state.
Higher-income people in states with low health care scores are
often worse off than low-income people in states with high health
care ratings, the report says. For example, low-income elderly
Medicare beneficiaries in Connecticut and Wisconsin are less likely
to receive high-risk medications than high-income elderly people in
Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
The report ranks states on 30 indicators, including access to
affordable health care, preventive care and quality, potentially
avoidable hospital use, and health outcomes.
Hawaii and states in the upper Midwest and Northeast had the
best scores, while Southern and South Central states often lagged.
Among low-income people, there were two- to five-fold differences
in their health care and health outcomes scores, depending on where
Among the other findings:
- The percentage of uninsured low-income adults ranged from a low
of 12 percent in Massachusetts to a high of 55 percent in
- Only 32 percent of low-income adults aged 50 and older received
recommended preventive care, such as cancer screenings and
vaccines. Rates ranged from 26 percent or less in Idaho, Oklahoma
and California to 42 percent in Massachusetts.
- In eight states, 40 percent or more of Medicare beneficiaries
received medications considered high risk for the elderly -- rates
more than double that of states with safer prescribing.
- Asthma-related hospitalizations among children from low-income
communities in New York were eight times higher than in Oregon, the
state with the lowest rate (477 per 100,000 in New York compared to
56 per 100,000 in Oregon).
- At least one of four low-income adults under age 65 in West
Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky lost six or
more teeth due to decay or disease, compared to less than 10
percent in Connecticut, Hawaii and Utah, the states with the lowest
- Low-income people were more likely to be uninsured or
underinsured than those with higher incomes. In 2010-'11, nearly 56
million low-income people were uninsured or underinsured, ranging
from a low of 36 percent in Massachusetts to a high of more than 60
percent in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New
Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
The sharp differences in health care access, quality and
outcomes identified in the report result in a substantial loss of
lives and missed opportunities to improve health and quality of
care, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
The report said that if all states could provide the same levels
of health care accessibility and quality as the leading states:
- About 86,000 fewer people would die prematurely each year.
- About 750,000 fewer low-income Medicare beneficiaries would be
prescribed potentially dangerous medications.
- Tens of millions of adults and children would receive needed
preventive care, such as vaccines, check-ups and cancer
- About 30 million more low-income adults and children would have
health insurance, reducing the number of uninsured Americans by
- About 33,000 more infants born to low-income mothers would
survive until their first birthday.
"We are talking about people's lives, health and well-being," Schoen said. "Our hope is that state policymakers and health care leaders use these data to target resources to improve access, care and the health of residents with below-average incomes."
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