Race, Wealth Predictors Of Mental, Medical Services Use

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Blacks and Asian-Americans are less likely than whites to takeadvantage of mental health or prescription drug benefits, according toa study published in Health Affairs on Tuesday, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. For the report, lead researcher Barak Richman, a Duke University law professor, and colleagues examined insurance claims from 2001 to 2004 of more than 20,000 Duke University and Duke University Health Systememployees. Study participants reflected the demographic makeup ofDurham County. Information on Hispanic Duke employees was not includedin the study because their income and education levels were notcomparable to county averages.

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According to the study:

  • Middle-incomewhites were more likely than middle-income blacks to take advantage ofmental health and prescription drug benefits;
  • Low-income blacks were less likely than middle-income blacks to take advantage of the services; and
  • Asian-Americanswere less likely than whites to use mental health services andsignificantly less likely to use prescription drug benefits.

Richmansaid the findings indicate that mandating health coverage would notguarantee that all individuals will take advantage of the services,adding that "forcing them to pay for coverage they won't use might notbe to their advantage." He added that if health services aredisproportionately used by whites and higher-income individuals, theuse of health insurance mandates "raises a whole host of questions. Wereally need to understand what explains these disparities."

Thefindings also suggest that more research is needed to determine whyincome and race have such a significant effect on individuals' use ofmental health and prescription drug benefits, he said. Culturaldifferences, individual perceptions or the decision to seek alternativesources, such as religious organizations and community groups, for helpmight likely be the cause, Richman said (Simmons, Raleigh News & Observer, reports 9/12).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser WeeklyHealth Disparities Report,search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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