Study: Residents In Tenn., Fla. And Ga. Saw Biggest Jump In Access Problems

Adults in nearly every state saw their access to health services worsen during over the past decade, with Tennessee, Florida and Georgia having the greatest increase in people reporting having an unmet medical need, according to a study released Tuesday.

The three states had at least a 9 percentage point jump in the proportion of adults under 65 who said they had unmet medical needs due to cost, according to the report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which was conducted by researchers at the Urban Institute.

Gordon Bonnyman, executive director of Tennessee Justice Center, an advocacy group, said he was not surprised Tennessee had the largest increase, at almost 11 percentage points. He noted Tennessee cut nearly 300,000 people from its Medicaid program in the middle part of the decade due to spending cuts. “It’s simple cause and effect. … It’s heartbreaking.”

Urban Institute researchers also conducted a similar study that was published published Monday in Health Affairs that showed tens of millions of adults had reduced access to health care over the decade.

States with the largest percentage of residents with unmet needs because of cost in 2010 were Mississippi (26.0%), Texas (25.3%) and Florida (25.1%).  States with the lowest were North Dakota (8.2%), Massachusetts (8.7%) and Hawaii (9.7%).

Over the past decade, rates of unmet medical needs rose in 42 states. The share of adults receiving routine check-ups fell in 37 states; and the share of adults who had access to dental care declined in 29 states. In all, 49 states experienced a significant decline on at least one of the three measures over the decade. West Virginia and the District of Columbia did not.

Adults without health insurance had it much worse than those with coverage.

In 2010, almost half of uninsured adults (48.1%) had an unmet health need due to cost, compared to 11.2 percent of insured adults. “This indicates that the health care safety net is not acting as an effective substitute for health insurance coverage when it comes to providing basic health care to the uninsured,” said Genevieve Kenney, the study’s lead author and a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

Still, the uninsured had an easier time accessing care in some states than others.  For example, 26 percent of uninsured adults in Alaska said they had an unmet medical need in 2010, compared to 57 percent in Kentucky.