Sociodemographic and Health Status Differences in Delaying Medical Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Older Adults: Findings From the Health and Retirement Study


During the COVID-19 Pandemic, adults in the United States reported delaying medical care, which may be tied risk of infection and local policies limiting appointment. Some populations may have been more likely to delay care than others, leading to other forms of health inequality during this period. To-date there is little research on delayed care among U.S. older adult. We determine the prevalence of delayed medical care among older adults and investigate sociodemographic and health status inequalities in delaying health care.


We used data from the first public release of the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study COVID-19 Subsample (N = 3006). Using logistic regression, we assessed whether differences in delaying health care varied by age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, self-rated health (SRH), and having any Activity of Daily Living (ADL) limitation. We also conducted additional analysis that evaluated differences in delaying care by two care subtypes: doctor and dental care visits.


About 30% of U.S. older adults reported delaying care with the most common types of delayed care being dental or doctor visits. Adults ages 75 and older were less likely to delay care, while women, college educated, and those with poor SRH, and any ADL limitations were more likely to delay care.


Nearly one-third of older adults delayed care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased likelihood of delayed care among people with worse health suggests that there may be longer-term impacts on the health care system and population health from the COVID-19 pandemic, and may contribute to health inequalities in the near future.

The full study is available in BMC Public Health.