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Recession Drove Down Doctor Visits, Study Says
Date:1/7/2013

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- During the recession from 2007 to 2009, fewer Americans visited doctors or filled prescriptions, according to a new report.

The report, based on a survey of more than 54,000 Americans, also found that racial disparities in access to health care increased during the so-called Great Recession, but emergency department visits stayed steady.

"We were expecting a significant reduction in health care use, particularly for minorities," said co-author Karoline Mortensen, an assistant professor in the department of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

"What we saw were some reductions across the board -- whites and Hispanics were less likely to use physician visits, prescription fills and in-patient stays," she said. "But that's the only disparity we saw, which was a surprise to us. We didn't see a drop in emergency room care."

Whether these altered patterns of health care resulted in more deaths or suffering isn't clear.

In terms of unemployment and loss of income and health insurance, blacks and Hispanics were affected more severely than whites during the recent economic downturn, according to background information in the study.

That was borne out in health care patterns. Compared to whites, Hispanics and blacks were less likely to see doctors or fill prescriptions and more likely to use emergency department care, Mortensen said.

Mortensen believes the Affordable Care Act will help level access to care for such people, and provide a buffer in the event of another economic slide.

"Preventive services without cost-sharing will entice people to use those services," she said. "And insuring all the people who don't have health insurance should level the playing field to some extent."

For the study, which was published online Jan. 7 in the journal JAMA Internal
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