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Vicki Pappas
Center for Planning and Policy Studies

Last modified: Monday, August 6, 2007

Choice of doctors, coverage for specialists top health care issues for people with disabilities

August 6, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A recent Indiana survey identified top health care problems and needs for people with disabilities. Respondents said choice of health care providers was the most important feature to include in health care reform legislation, followed by coverage for specialists, low co-pays, dental coverage and preventive care. Coverage of prescription drugs and mental health services were also top issues for people with disabilities.

"The respondents spoke out loud and clear that the current healthcare system is broken, not unlike how the general populations feels," said Vicki Pappas, director of the Center for Planning and Policy Studies at Indiana University's Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. "People with disabilities hope to have their voices heard and want to help shape the coming debates about how to reform healthcare."

The project, "2007 Indiana Disability Poll," was a joint effort in collaboration with the Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities and Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services. A total of 651 surveys were completed either by people with disabilities or their families and advocates. Results were released late last month.

"Choice of doctor is a top issue for a number of reasons, including accessible offices and equipment, physician's knowledge of specific disabilities and how they affect medical needs, and having to start over every time with a new office in educating the staff about accommodations," Pappas said. "With dental care, generally it is not covered by health insurance, and it is often difficult to find a dentist who accepts Medicaid or Medicare. Another thing that is problematic in the current system, is a lack of coverage for durable equipment like wheel chairs, hearing aids, eyeglasses and walkers. Many adults with disabilities have a low income, and find it difficult to purchase these items with their own funds given their other needs," she said.

The survey did reveal some good news, Pappas said. "I was pleasantly surprised to see that people are getting regular check-ups. Seven out of 10 respondents said they had an annual exam within the last year."

Among the survey's findings:

  • More coverage, less red tape. The top three desired improvements to the current system were increasing coverage (such as for medical equipment and devices, mental health services, vision and dental treatment, and prescription drugs), streamlining administration and paperwork, and decreasing costs for co-pays and insurance premiums.
  • Income disparities. In households of incomes greater than $50,000, 75 percent of respondents rated the quality of their healthcare as good, very good or excellent. In households of incomes lower than $25,000, that number dropped to 50 percent. Lower-income respondents were also more likely to use emergency rooms for care. Although 57 percent of respondents with household incomes greater than $50,000 report receiving all the health care they need, only 38 percent of respondents in households with incomes less than $25,000 report receiving sufficient health care. "What is postponed is dental work, filling prescriptions and getting needed care and tests," Pappas said. "Families also report postponing needed therapies for their children."
  • Specialist and mental health services hard to access. More than half (51 percent) of all respondents report having difficulty receiving mental health services and specialist care.
  • Autism a common stumbling block. Although the survey did not ask specifically about autism, many respondents wrote in open response sections about their difficulties accessing care for the treatment of autism.

The three Indiana Disability Poll partners plan to follow up the survey by developing educational materials and hosting public forums for people with disabilities and their families and advocates over the coming year. The partners will conduct a second annual poll next year, focusing on voting and participation in the electoral process.

For more information, contact Pappas at or 812-855-6508. The Center for Planning and Policy Studies is online at