Disparities in access to health services continue to exist among adults age 65 and older in the United States despite near-universal insurance coverage provided through Medicare. One potential barrier to health service utilization is knowledge of health insurance coverage. Medicare has been drastically restructured in the recent past, and as the program becomes increasingly privatized, Medicare enrollees are left with more choices, but also a more complicated system through which to navigate. This study examines the relationship between Medicare enrollee knowledge of their Medicare health insurance and sociodemographic factors, health status, and the use of health services. Data was analyzed from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), a nationally representative study of the U.S. civilian, non-institutionalized, household population. Included in this study were Black, Hispanic, and White respondents aged 65 and older who participated in the NHIS from 2004 to 2009 (N=30,002). The prevalence of a lack of Medicare knowledge appears to be low among Medicare enrollees, with 13% reporting they did not know the answer to one or more questions about their coverage. Age and chronic illness status were found to be related to Medicare plan knowledge, with older adults and those who were not chronically ill more likely to report they did not know some aspect about their Medicare plan. Respondents who reported not knowing at least one question about their Medicare plan reported significantly fewer medical office visits and more time since they last interacted with a doctor, were less likely to have talked with a medical specialist, and have had surgery over the past year. The findings from this study suggest that knowledge of health insurance coverage is an important correlate of health service utilization, which may be shaped by disparities in access to health insurance across the life course.
Webster, N.J. (2011), "Medicare Knowledge and Health Service Utilization Among Older Adults", Jacobs Kronenfeld, J. (Ed.) Access to Care and Factors that Impact Access, Patients as Partners in Care and Changing Roles of Health Providers (Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Vol. 29), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 273-297. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0275-4959(2011)0000029014
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