WEDNESDAY, Sept. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Low-income Americans' access to health care and the quality of care they receive vary widely based on where they live, according to a new report.
Compared to wealthier people, low-income Americans lose more teeth, have more asthma flare-ups and miss out on vaccinations and cancer screenings. They also are less likely to have health insurance, finds the report, which was released Wednesday by the Commonwealth Fund, a health policy think tank.
The report provides a state-by-state comparison of health care for the 39 percent of people with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $47,000 for a family of four and $23,000 for an individual.
"We found repeated evidence that we are often two Americas, divided by income and geography when it comes to opportunities to lead long and healthy lives," report lead author Cathy Schoen, Commonwealth Fund senior vice president, said in an organization news release. "These are more than numbers."
Low-income people account for at least one-quarter of total state populations, and almost half in some states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico, according to the report.
The report authors also compared the quality of health care received by people with low incomes and higher incomes -- more than 400 percent of the poverty level, or $94,000 for a family of four -- and found major disparities by income in each state.
Higher-income people in states with low health care scores are often worse off than low-income people in states with high health care ratings, the report says. For example, low-income elderly Medicare beneficiaries in Connecticut and Wisconsin are less likely to receive high-risk medications than high-income elderly people in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
The report ranks states on 30 indicators, including access to affordable health care, preventive care and quality, potentially avoidable hospital use, and health outcomes.
Hawaii and states in the upper Midwest and Northeast had the best scores, while Southern and South Central states often lagged. Among low-income people, there were two- to five-fold differences in their health care and health outcomes scores, depending on where they lived.
Among the other findings:
The sharp differences in health care access, quality and outcomes identified in the report result in a substantial loss of lives and missed opportunities to improve health and quality of care, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
The report said that if all states could provide the same levels of health care accessibility and quality as the leading states:
"We are talking about people's lives, health and well-being," Schoen said. "Our hope is that state policymakers and health care leaders use these data to target resources to improve access, care and the health of residents with below-average incomes."
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