Competing Priorities as a Barrier to Medical Care Among Homeless Adults in Los Angeles

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 87, no. 2, Feb. 1997, p. 217-220

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1996

by Lillian Gelberg, Teresa C. Gallagher, Ronald Andersen, Paul Koegel

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The role of competing priorities as a barrier to the utilization of physical health services was assessed in a subset of a probability sample of homeless adults in Los Angeles. Unadjusted odds of four measures of health services utilization were calculated for those with frequent difficulty in meeting their subsistence needs. These odds were then adjusted for a range of characteristics assumed to affect the utilization of health services among the homeless. Before and after adjustment, those with frequent subsistence difficulty were less likely to have a regular source of care (odds ration [OR] = 0.30, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.16, 0.53) and more likely to have gone without needed medical care (OR = 1.77, 95% CI = 1.04, 3.00). Subsistence difficulty had no impact on the likelihood of having an outpatient visit or having been hospitalized. Conclusions remained the same after adjustment. Frequent subsistence difficulty appears to be an important nonfinancial barrier to the utilization of health services perceived as discretionary among homeless adults.

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