Community Effects on Access to Behavioral Health Care

Published in: Health Services Research, v. 35, no. 1, pt. 2, Apr. 2000, p. 293-306

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1999

by Carole Roan Gresenz, Susan Stockdale, Kenneth B. Wells

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OBJECTIVE: To explore the effects of community-level factors on access to any behavioral health care and specialty behavioral health care. DATA: Healthcare for Communities household survey data, merged to supplemental data from the 1990 Census Area Resource File, 1995 U.S. Census Bureau Small Area Estimates, and 1994 HMO enrollment data. STUDY DESIGN: The authors use a random intercept model to estimate the influences of community-level factors on access to any outpatient care, any behavioral health care conditional on having received outpatient care, and any specialty behavioral health care conditional on having received behavioral health care. DATA COLLECTION: HCC data were collected in 1997 from about 10,000 households nationwide but clustered in 60 sites. Principal Findings: Individuals in areas with greater HMO presence have better overall access to care, which in turn affects access to behavioral health care; individuals in poorer communities have less access to specialty care compared to individuals in wealthier communities. CONCLUSIONS: The findings of lower access to specialty care among those in poor communities raises concerns about the appropriateness and quality of the behavioral health care they are receiving. More generally, the findings suggest the importance of considering the current status and expected evolution of HMO penetration and the income level in a community when devising health care policy.

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