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Monday, December 16, 2013

People use preventative care when they can get it

It’s obviously too soon to know how the Affordable Care Act will effect health care in the United States. However, researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Rochester have completed a study to see how having any type of health insurance affects individuals. In particular, the scientists were interested in whether people adopt riskier behavior and/or use more health services after acquiring insurance, one of the fears of people opposed to universal coverage.

Lead author Anthony Jerant and his colleagues analyzed data from nearly 80,000 adults over an eight year period. For each person, information on whether they had gained or lost insurance coverage, whether they had used any preventative care like vaccination or cancer screenings, and whether they had changed any health habits related to weight, smoking or use of seatbelts.

After gaining insurance, people were more likely to take advantage of preventative care. They were less likely to use such services after they had lost their health insurance. No surprises there. People are using services that are made available to them. However, people did not change their health behaviors, either for better or worse, when they gained or lost insurance. 

This is good news for insurance companies. People don’t suddenly start taking potentially expensive risks with their health just because they now have insurance. It’s also good for the patients that they recognize the value of preventative care and use it as much as they can. And by the way, this practice also saves money in the long run. 

As I said, these results do not include data from insurance changes under the Affordable Care Act. However, if one could extrapolate, this study certainly suggests that more people having access to health insurance would be a good thing for everyone.

Jerant A, Fiscella K, Tancredi DJ, & Franks P (2013). Health insurance is associated with preventive care but not personal health behaviors. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine : JABFM, 26 (6), 759-67 PMID: 24204073.

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