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Rural-urban differences in health care benefits of a community-based sample of at-risk drinkers

Fortney JC, Booth BM, Kirchner JE, Han X. Rural-urban differences in health care benefits of a community-based sample of at-risk drinkers. The Journal of rural health : official journal of the American Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Care Association. 2003 Jul 1; 19(3):292-8.

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CONTEXT: Different types of health plan cost-containment strategies (eg, gatekeeping, selective contracting, and cost-sharing) may affect the utilization of behavioral health services differently in urban and rural areas. PURPOSE: This research compares the cost-containment strategies used by the health plans of insured at-risk drinkers residing in rural and urban areas. METHODS: A screening instrument for at-risk drinking was administered by phone to approximately 12,000 residents of 6 southern states; 442 at-risk drinkers completed 4 interviews over a 2-year period and consented to release insurance and medical records. Two thirds of the sample (n = 294) were insured during the last 6 months of the study. In 1998, health plan characteristics were successfully collected for 217 (72.3%) of the insured at-risk drinkers, representing 113 different health plans and 206 different policies. FINDINGS: Compared with urban at-risk drinkers, rural at-risk drinkers were significantly less likely to be enrolled in a health plan with gatekeeping policies for both behavioral health (P = .001), and physical health (P = .031). Compared with urban enrollees, rural enrollees were significantly more likely to pay deductibles (P = .042), to pay coinsurance for physical health services (P = .002), and to have limits placed on physical health services use (P = .067), but they were less likely to pay copayments for physical health (P = .046). Rural enrollees were less likely to face higher copayments (P = .007) and higher coinsurance (P = .076) for mental health than for physical health, compared to urban enrollees. CONCLUSIONS: Because rural residents were more likely to be enrolled in indemnity plans and less likely to be enrolled in health maintenance organizations, rural at-risk drinkers were enrolled in plans that relied less on supply-side cost-containment strategies and more on demand-side cost-containment strategies targeting physical health service use, compared with their urban counterparts. Rural at-risk drinkers were less likely to be enrolled in health plans with greater cost-sharing for mental health than for physical health compared to urban at-risk drinkers.

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