Barriers to Medical Care for Homeless Families Compared with Housed Poor Families

Published in: American Journal of Diseases of Children, v, 145, no. 10, Oct. 1991, p.1109-1115

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1990

by David L. Wood, Robert Otto Burciaga Valdez

To evaluate health access and health services utilization of homeless families the authors selected a systematic sample of 194 homeless families from 10 shelters in Los Angeles and 196 housed poor families from the same geographic regions of Los Angeles selected from welfare offices. Both samples relied primarily on Medicaid for their health insurance (61% and 96%). However, more homeless families than housed poor families were currently uninsured (26% vs 2%), had lost health insurance over the past year (50% vs 21%), and had spent a greater percentage of the past year uncovered by health insurance (22% vs 6%). Homeless families were much less likely to report a regular provider for preventive care (81% vs 94%) or for sick care (72% vs 95%). Moreover, of those reporting a regular provider, homeless families were more likely than housed poor families to use emergency departments or clinics rather than private offices for both preventive care (35% vs 15%) and sick care (37% vs 26%). Barriers to health care more frequently prevented homeless families from obtaining care (38% vs 28%). These findings suggest that homeless families have greater problems of access to health care than other poor families, related to lack of insurance, lack of a regular primary care provider, and other barriers. Programs to address these barriers for homeless families are presented.

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