Apr 28, 2023 - Health

Over 1 in 5 skip health care due to transportation barriers

Illustration of a long, winding road with red health crosses painted down the middle as lane dividers

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

More than 1 in 5 U.S. adults without access to a vehicle or public transportation missed or skipped a medical appointment in the previous year, according to a new study that sheds light on a key social driver of health equity.

Why it matters: While telehealth may have reduced transportation barriers for mental health, primary care and some other services, it's not accessible to all and can't substitute for in-person care for some medical needs, the Urban Institute researchers wrote.

  • The findings point to gaps that could be filled by Medicaid coverage of nonemergency medical transportation, which varies by state, or expanded access to telehealth where public transit options are limited, they said.

What they found: 21% of adults without access to a vehicle or public transit went without needed medical care last year.

  • About 5% of nonelderly adults didn't get needed care in the past year because of difficulty finding transportation, an experience more common among individuals from low-income families, people with disabilities and those on public health programs.
  • Though 91% of adults said they had access to a vehicle, the figure was substantially lower Black adults (81%), those with low family incomes (78%) or a disability (83%) and for individuals with public health insurance (79%) or no coverage (83%).
  • The study draws on data from the June 2022 round of the Urban Institute's Health Reform Monitoring Survey of adults ages 18 to 64.

Go deeper: Research suggests that 10% of a person's health can be attributed to the physical environment, including transportation.

  • The pandemic experience and heightened awareness of racial inequalities are prompting some cities to rethink the mobility revolution to ensure there's more equitable access, as Axios' Joann Muller has written.

Editor's note: This report was corrected to reflect that research suggests 10% of a person's health can be attributed to the physical environment, including transportation, not 40%.

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