Low-income patients don’t use more services

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente of Colorado in Denver found that previously uninsured low-income patients used no more medical services than commercial health maintenance organization (HMO) members. The study compared 346 randomly selected previously uninsured low-income patients to 382 randomly selected HMO members under a group plan matched for age and sex. They collected data for two years on outpatient visits for primary and specialty care; the use of outpatient pharmacy, laboratory, and radiology; inpatient admissions; and hospital days.

Researchers found that compared with commercial HMO members of the same age and sex, the patterns of utilization and financial costs of care were only moderately more for a previously uninsured group. Findings include:

• There were no differences in hospital admissions and total hospital days between the groups.

• There were no differences in laboratory or radiology use between the groups.

• There was no difference in pharmacy use.

• The number of outpatient visits per patient per month was 30% higher for the previously uninsured group.

(See: Bograd H, Ritzwoller DP, Calonge N, et al. Extending health maintenance organization insurance to the uninsured: A controlled measure of health care utilization. JAMA 1997; 277:1,067-1,072.)