Race, Wealth Predictors of Mental, Medical Services Use, Study Finds
Blacks and Asian-Americans are less likely than whites to take advantage of mental health or prescription drug benefits, according to a study published in Health Affairs on Tuesday, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. For the report, lead researcher Barak Richman, a Duke University law professor, and colleagues examined insurance claims from 2001 to 2004 of more than 20,000 Duke University and Duke University Health System employees. Study participants reflected the demographic makeup of Durham County. Information on Hispanic Duke employees was not included in the study because their income and education levels were not comparable to county averages.
According to the study:
- Middle-income whites were more likely than middle-income blacks to take advantage of mental health and prescription drug benefits;
- Low-income blacks were less likely than middle-income blacks to take advantage of the services; and
- Asian-Americans were less likely than whites to use mental health services and significantly less likely to use prescription drug benefits.
Richman said the findings indicate that mandating health coverage would not guarantee that all individuals will take advantage of the services, adding that "forcing them to pay for coverage they won't use might not be to their advantage." He added that if health services are disproportionately used by whites and higher-income individuals, the use of health insurance mandates "raises a whole host of questions. We really need to understand what explains these disparities."
The findings also suggest that more research is needed to determine why income and race have such a significant effect on individuals' use of mental health and prescription drug benefits, he said. Cultural differences, individual perceptions or the decision to seek alternative sources, such as religious organizations and community groups, for help might likely be the cause, Richman said (Simmons, Raleigh News & Observer, reports 9/12).
The study is available online. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.