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Soc Sci Med. 2009 Nov;69(10):1452-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.08.030. Epub 2009 Sep 18.

The role of health insurance in explaining immigrant versus non-immigrant disparities in access to health care: comparing the United States to Canada.

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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7440, USA.


Using a cross-national comparative approach, we examined the influence of health insurance on U.S. immigrant versus non-immigrant disparities in access to primary health care. With data from the 2002/2003 Joint Canada/United States Survey of Health, we gathered evidence using three approaches: 1) we compared health care access among insured and uninsured immigrants and non-immigrants within the U.S.; 2) we contrasted these results with health care access disparities between immigrants and non-immigrants in Canada, a country with universal health care; and 3) we conducted a novel direct comparison of health care access among insured and uninsured U.S. immigrants with Canadian immigrants (all of whom are insured). Outcomes investigated were self-reported unmet medical needs and lack of a regular doctor. Logistic regression models controlled for age, sex, nonwhite status, marital status, education, employment, and self-rated health. In the U.S., odds of unmet medical needs of insured immigrants were similar to those of insured non-immigrants but far greater for uninsured immigrants. The effect of health insurance was even more striking for lack of regular doctor. Within Canada, disparities between immigrants and non-immigrants were similar in magnitude to disparities seen among insured Americans. For both outcomes, direct comparisons of U.S. and Canada revealed significant differences between uninsured American immigrants and Canadian immigrants, but not between insured Americans and Canadians, stratified by nativity. Findings suggest health care insurance is a critical cause of differences between immigrants and non-immigrants in access to primary care, lending robust support for the expansion of health insurance coverage in the U.S. This study also highlights the usefulness of cross-national comparisons for establishing alternative counterfactuals in studies of disparities in health and health care.

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