Kantar Health Blog

Despite insurance coverage under the ACA, patient attitudes may limit use of healthcare resources

by Patricia Ensor | Feb 5, 2014
Patricia Ensor

One concern about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is that it may cause an influx of unhealthy patients into the healthcare market, overwhelming an already taxed system. As I discussed in my last blog, the previously uninsured population is generally younger and physically healthier than the insured population. The vast majority have no significant diseases. So are these people taking better care of themselves? How do they feel about health, and how will this affect their use of healthcare resources once they are insured?

Using  our proprietary patient research of 50,000 individuals to examine the U.S. uninsured population, we found that while the uninsured population is generally healthier physically than the insured population, their mental health—which includes such functions as vitality, social functional and emotional health—scores far lower than that of insured patients. This disparity will have possible implications on the types of health services that newly insured patients will likely demand.

The uninsured population may appear to be healthier than the insured today, but they seem to have less interest in leading healthy lifestyles. The insured population works out more often than the uninsured, while those without insurance are much more likely to smoke cigarettes. However, BMI is essentially the same in both groups.

Traditionally, those in the uninsured group have turned to self-treatment, with 44 percent saying they prefer to treat themselves with an OTC medicine rather than get a prescription from a physician (vs.  34 percent of the insured population). At first glance it might seem they embrace self-treatment because their lack of insurance naturally would mean they would not seek help from a traditional healthcare professional . However, our data implies that these behaviors also can be attributed to their attitudes. For example, only 32 percent of the uninsured group believes that having regular contact with their physician is the best way to avoid illness, compared with half of the insured group.

It will be interesting to see how the newly insured population behave after their coverage begins. While they may embrace a healthier lifestyle if they have more regular access to their physician, their attitudes seem to suggest they may have little interest in using more traditional healthcare resources.

For more insights into the uninsured populations in the United States, check out our infographic: How healthy are the uninsured? My next blog will focus on the healthcare resource use of the uninsured population, barriers to using healthcare and cost-cutting strategies.

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