MONDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Almost 20 percent of Americans, or more than 40 million adults, can't afford or access needed health care, according to a new U.S. government report released Monday.
Access to health care is the focus of this year's Health, United States, 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It shows that one-fifth of Americans couldn't afford one or more of these services: medical care, prescription medicines, mental health care, dental care, or eyeglasses.
"People tend to equate access to care with insurance," said report author Amy Bernstein, chief of the analytic studies branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "But access to care is more than insurance."
"People assume that if you have health insurance of any kind that you're okay, but that's not the case," she added.
Among the other barriers are locales without enough doctors, lack of transportation to doctors and clinics, and shortages of such organs as kidneys for transplants.
That means that even when people "have health insurance there are still disparities," Bernstein said.
In 2005, almost one in 10 people aged 18 to 64 years old reported not being able to afford prescription drugs and almost 10 percent said they postponed getting the medical care they needed.
While it's not the only factor, a lack of health insurance remains a key to accessing care, Bernstein said.
"We have a lot of evidence that people who don't have health insurance are much less likely to receive services than people who do," she said. "Health insurance is critical."
Other findings in the annual report:
Despite these problems, there were some gains, the report noted.
Last year, 87 percent of young children between 19months and 35 months old were vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, up from 41 percent in 2002.
Moreover, the percentage of adults with high cholesterol dropped, to 17 percent, down from 21 percent between 1988-1994.
Also, 25 percent of adults had untreated cavities in 2004, down from 50 percent in the early 1970s, the report said.
"There has been important progress made in many areas of health, such as increased life expectancy, and decreases in deaths from leading killers such as heart disease and cancer. But this report shows that access to health care is still an issue where we need improvement," CDC Director Julie Gerberding said in a prepared statement.
One expert believes the answer to the problem lies in a universal national health care system.