The Impact of Insurance Instability on Health Service Utilization: Does Non-metropolitan Residence Make a Difference?

Bronwyn E. Fields, Janice F Bell, Sally Moyce, Jeri L Bigbee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: Discontinuous and no health insurance are major barriers to health care utilization. This paper examines if nonmetropolitan versus metropolitan residence is associated with differences in health care utilization in the face of insurance instability. Methods: A cross-sectional analysis of adults aged 18-64 years was conducted using the 2006-2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data set (N = 61,039). Negative binomial regression was used to model measures of health service utilization (emergency room [ER] visits, inpatient discharges, office-based visits, dental care visits, prescriptions filled, home health visits) as functions of insurance continuity, adjusted for sociodemographic and health-related covariates. Models were stratified by metropolitan versus nonmetropolitan residence. Findings: Health insurance continuity was significantly associated with several measures of health service utilization, including more ER visits for individuals with gaps in health insurance (IRR [incident risk ratio] = 1.29; 95% CI: 1.16-1.42) and fewer inpatient discharges for individuals without insurance (IRR = 0.50; 95% CI: 0.43-0.57) when compared with individuals with continuous insurance. Individuals who were discontinuously insured or uninsured had significantly fewer office-based visits. They also had significantly fewer dental visits, prescription fills, and home health visits; moreover, the magnitudes of these associations were generally significantly greater for residents of nonmetropolitan areas. Conclusions: Insurance instability is associated with higher use of emergency services and reduced use of nonhospital health care services. Residents of nonmetropolitan areas with unstable or no insurance coverage may be at particular risk for reduced access and use of some health services relative to their counterparts living in metropolitan areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-34
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Rural Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Geography
  • Health disparities
  • Health services research
  • Insurance
  • Medical Expenditure Panel Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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