The Unexpected Faces of the Uninsured

Study finds nearly 40 percent of those without coverage live in the suburbs

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 4, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- In a finding that upends conventional thinking about who is typically uninsured, new research finds that 1 in 7 residents in the suburbs don't have health coverage.

When tallied up, that totaled almost 40 percent of all uninsured people in the nation, the study authors said.

"We rarely think about suburbs when we think about vulnerable populations," said lead author Alina Schnake-Mahl, a doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"Increasing rates of suburban poverty haven't gotten much attention from the public health sector, and policymakers really haven't started to consider what these shifts in the geography of poverty mean for health care access and for health disparities," Schnake-Mahl said in a Harvard news release.

Researchers came to their conclusions after examining data from federal surveys of almost 2.7 million people conducted from 2005-2015.

The investigators found that 44 percent of the U.S. population lives in the suburbs. Fifteen percent of suburban residents were uninsured, and about a third had no routine annual checkup. Poor suburbanites were more likely (42 percent) to go without an annual checkup.

Insurance rates in the suburbs did grow after the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, but not at the same rate as in urban and rural areas.

"In most studies, suburban areas are grouped with urban areas. But suburbs are unique geographies with specific challenges for health care access," Schnake-Mahl said.

"Providing services and care to the suburban poor population may require different policies than those typically relied on in urban or rural areas," she added.

The study appears in the October issue of Health Affairs.

More information

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SOURCE: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, news release, Oct. 2, 2017

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