Preventive Care: A National Profile on Use, Disparities, and Health Benefits

This report on the underuse of preventive care in the U.S. documents how many lives are lost unnecessarily each year due to underutilization of preventive care and details which services in particular are not being efficiently accessed by Americans. The report also estimates the benefits to the U.S. population if preventive service use jumped from current rates to 90 percent utilization and quantifies disparities in use of services by race/ethnicity. The report follows up a 2006 study published jointly by Partnership for Prevention and HealthPartners Research Foundation that ranked 25 evidence-based clinical preventive services.

The increased use of a handful of preventive services would save more than 100,000 lives annually: taking aspirin to prevent heart disease; advising smokers to quit and offering them medication to assist them; administering influenza vaccines, and screening for colorectal, breast, and cervical cancers. Hispanics, Asians and African Americans generally lag behind Caucasians in their use of and access to preventive care for many complex reasons, including higher rates of discontinuity in their health care and lack of a relationship with a health professional who can ensure their utilization of preventive services. Breast and cervical cancer screening were actually lower in 2005 than they were five years earlier across all major racial categories.

The report concludes that the U.S. health care system rewards specialty care and acute treatment at the expense of primary care and prevention. For example, preventive services generally have high out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured and for people with high-deductible insurance plans. Among 12 services examined in the report, seven are being used by about half of the people who should be using them. Increasing this fraction would save more than 100,000 lives annually, as well as lead to more effective use of dollars spent on health care in the U.S.