Regional poverty boosts adults' chances of having unmet health care needs

Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368

The more poverty in a county (households with income below the Federal poverty line), the more likely that county residents have unmet health care needs, concludes a new study. The researchers examined the impact of regional poverty on 11,255 individuals in Ohio's 48 rural counties and 28,698 individuals in the State's 40 urban counties. They found that almost identical proportions of each group reported an unmet health care need (14.6 percent for rural and 14.5 percent for urban county residents), a marker of health care access. Overall, higher regional poverty in Ohio was associated with a significant 8 percent increased risk of unmet health care needs for rural and urban county residents. This rose to an 11 percent greater risk after adjustment for other factors affecting unmet health care needs, such as health care resources, social capital, and social disruption.

Different measures of health care resources varied in their impact on rural and urban counties. For example, the proportion of physicians in primary care and hospital beds per capita were associated with unmet health care needs in rural settings. Yet only the proportion of Medicare beneficiaries in managed care showed an association with health care needs in urban areas.

The findings were based on several regional data sources combined with the 2004 Ohio Family Health Survey (an adult sample of 39,953 persons from all 88 counties). Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that interventions to reduce regional poverty could improve health through better access to care. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00059).

More details are in "County-level poverty is equally associated with unmet health care needs in rural and urban settings," by Lars E. Peterson, M.D., Ph.D., and David G. Litaker, M.D., Ph.D., in the Fall 2010 The Journal of Rural Health 26(4); pp. 373-382.

Current as of April 2011
Internet Citation: Regional poverty boosts adults' chances of having unmet health care needs: Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368. April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/apr11/0411RA3.html