Study: NY adults losing health care access

A stock photo of a doctor taking a A stock photo of a doctor taking a patient's blood pressure. Photo Credit: iStockphoto

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Adult New Yorkers have less access to health care than they did a decade ago, mirroring a national trend, and the uninsured have been particularly hard hit, according to a study published Tuesday.

Using federal government survey data, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute looked at three ways to measure access to health care: people who said they had unmet medical needs because of costs, got routine checkups or went to the dentist.

New Yorkers showed a worsening in all three areas, the study found. For instance, those with unmet medical needs rose 5 percentage points from 2000-2010, from 10.5 percent to 15.5 percent. That means about 1.8 million New Yorkers are not getting some medical care because of cost, the study said.

"New York's experience is not atypical," said Genevieve Kenney of the Urban Institute, one of the study's authors. "Adults had lower access at the end of the decade and those declines were in all three measures."

Still, New Yorkers were somewhat better off than residents of many states, the study found. An average of 18.7 percent of Americans said they had unmet medical needs in 2010. Uninsured New Yorkers fared much worse than the insured: Close to half said they had unmet medical needs because of costs compared with less than 10 percent of those insured.

Michael Birnbaum, vice president at the nonprofit United Hospital Fund, said that percentage would be even higher if the state hadn't expanded Medicaid coverage in the last decade.

"The study is further confirmation of the importance of health insurance coverage among adults . . . ," he said.

Gwen O'Shea, president of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, agreed, adding that New York's health insurance programs such as Family Health Plus have also helped to keep down the decline among adults not getting primary care. She said the findings also pointed to "the weak safety net."

"We know that getting care at the emergency department is not the way to get good care but that has become the safety net in many places," she said.

John Sardelis, associate professor of health administration at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, said the decline was in part predictable because of the recession, greater unemployment and subsequent loss of health insurance. Many with insurance have also been paying higher co-pays and deductibles, he said.

But the report pointed out that access to health care had already been declining before the recession.

Strains on the safety net, higher out-of-pocket insurance costs and public health insurance coverage that hasn't expanded to meet growing needs are likely contributing factors independent of the recession, Kenney said.

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