Dr. Ahuja publishes on financial barriers to healthcare access

Manik Ahuja, Assistant Professor in East Tennessee State University College of Public Health’s Department of Health Services Management and Policy, has published in the Southern Medical Journal.  The article is titled “Association between Financial Barriers to Healthcare Access and Mental Health Outcomes in Tennessee.”

Doctoral students Johanna Cimilluca, Esther Adebayo-Abikoye, and Kawther Al Ksir are co-authors, along with master’s students Arpana Karki, Eugene Annor and Chisom Nwaneki with additional co-authors from the University of Connecticut and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

A large number of people cannot afford healthcare services in the United States. Researchers have studied the impact of lack of affordability of health care on the outcomes of various physical conditions. Mental health disorders have emerged as a major public health challenge during the past decade. The lack of affordability of health care also may contribute to the burden of mental health. This research focuses on the association between financial barriers to health care and mental health outcomes in the US state of Tennessee.

The researchers used cross-sectional data contained in the 2019 US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). They extracted data for the state of Tennessee, which included 6242 adults aged 18 years or older.  Overall, 11.0% of participants reported ≥20 past-month mentally unhealthy days and 24.0% reported 1 to 20 past-month mentally unhealthy days. More than 13% of study participants reported they could not see a doctor because of the cost in the past 12 months. The inability to see a doctor because of the cost of care was associated with a higher risk of 20 or more mentally unhealthy days within the past month.

The researchers concluded statistically significant associations were observed between the inability to see a doctor when needed because of cost and increased days of poorer mental health outcomes. This research has potential policy implications in the postcoronavirus disease 2019 era with healthcare transformation and significant financial impact.