TUESDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Americans with health insurance are more likely than uninsured people to use preventive services such as flu shots and health screenings, according to a new study.
They are no more likely, however, to take health risks such as smoking.
The findings challenge the common concern that expanding health care coverage to more people might encourage unhealthy behavior that increases health care use and costs, the researchers said.
"The notion that people with insurance will exhibit riskier behavior ... has its roots in the early days of the property insurance industry," study author Anthony Jerant, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, Davis, said in a university news release.
"After buying fire insurance, some people wouldn't manage fire hazards on their property," he said. "But health care is different. Someone might not care if their insured warehouse burns down, but most people want desperately to avoid illness."
The researchers analyzed national data on the costs and uses of health care and found that the use of preventive care increased when people had health insurance and decreased when they were uninsured.
Insurance status had no effect on risky behaviors such as smoking, weight gain and not using a seat belt, according to the study, which was published in the November-December issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
"There has been a concern that people would say, 'Hey, I have insurance now, I don't have to worry about my diet. If I get heavy and develop a problem, I can just go to a doctor and have it treated,'" Jerant said. "We found that's not the case. Health insurance coverage did not worsen the health habits we studied."
On the other hand, insurance has an impact on healthy habits, said study co-author Kevin Fiscella, a professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, in New York.
"These results do show that having health insurance affects the likelihood of receiving important preventive services that can potentially reduce the chance of a flu-related hospitalization or death, and prevent or detect colorectal or cervical cancer," Fiscella said in the news release.
"This is a critical message, as many states continue to debate whether to expand Medicaid," he said.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about health insurance.