Uninsured women are not getting Pap smears

How many women in your family planning facility may be missing a needed Pap smear? Check your numbers: One-fourth of uninsured U.S. women between the ages of 18-64 report not having had a Pap smear within the last three years of a government-issued survey.1

The numbers are twice the 11% rate for women with private insurance and higher than the 15% rate for women covered by Medicaid or any other public insurance. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women from ages 21-64 receive a Pap smear screening at least every three years to detect cervical cancer and abnormal cells that can develop into cancer.2

More than 17 million women are uninsured, according to figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).3 According to a 2004 KFF national survey, 40% of uninsured women said they had not had a Pap smear in the previous two years, compared to 20% of insured women.3

The figures for the current government report come from the 2005 cycle of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which gives a detailed glimpse of health services used by Americans and their frequency of use, as well as their costs and method of payment. The current Pap smear figures are similar to those found in 2004 and 2003, says Anita Soni, PhD, a survey analyst/ statistician at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and author of the report.

What does the new report reveal about the frequency of Pap smears? Take a look at the numbers:

  • In the overall picture, 14% of women ages 18-64, regardless of insurance status, did not receive a Pap smear within the last three years.
  • Asian women were more than twice as likely (21.5%) to have not received a Pap smear in the last three years than African-American women (10%). These numbers compare to 13.5% in white women and 16% in Hispanic women.
  • Single (never married) women were nearly twice as likely not to have received the Pap test within the last three years as compared with those who were married.1


  1. Soni A. Use of the Pap Test as a Cancer Screening Tool Among Women Age 18-64, U.S. Noninstitutionalized Population, 2005.Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; June 2007. Accessed at www.meps.ahrq.gov.
  2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Cervical Cancer: Recommendations and Rationale. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; January 2003. Accessed at: www.ahrq.gov.
  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Women's Health Insurance Coverage. Menlo Park, CA; February 2007. Accessed at www.kff.org.