01/05/2012 10:44 am ET

Americans With Sporadic Health Insurance Skip Tests As Much As Those With None At All: Study

When it comes to preventative care, having on-and-off health insurance might be as bad as not having it all.

A study of diabetics by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research found that patients with breaks in their health insurance coverage were less likely to receive annual preventative tests, according to NPR. The patients avoided getting the tests just as much as someone with no health insurance at all.

One reason could be that Americans without health insurance have to pay a small co-pay of five dollars -- a sum that could add up for patients that require a bevy of tests on a small income, one of the lead researchers told NPR.

Health care costs have weighed on Americans for years now, with rising costs becoming an accepted part of everyday life for many with chronic conditions. By 2008, Americans' spending on healthcare was more than triple what they spent in 1990, according to a separate Kaiser report. Overall, health care spending accounted for more than 15 percent of the U.S.'s gross domestic product by that time -- one of the highest rates of industrialized countries.

The struggle to afford health care was especially evident in 2010 when the total number of Americans with health insurance fell for the first time in over two decades, according to CNNMoney. The number of Americans without health insurance rose to 49.9 million that year, according to data from the Census Bureau.

And that number may only be poised to rise. Government analysts expect the health care industry to comprise a fifth of the total U.S. economy by 2020, or $13,710 for "every man, woman and child." Fewer California employers offered health insurance to workers last year, according to the California Employer Health Benefits survey. Employees also saw the costs of their insurance plans rise and one-third of employers are considering shifting more of the costs to workers next year, the survey found.

Lacking health insurance means that patients skimp on more than just preventative care. Southern states are less likely to have good dental hygiene, according to a September Gallup poll. More than 70 percent of the residents of the top states for dental care have health insurance compared to 56 percent for the bottom 10 states, the poll found.

Still, even Americans who have health insurance may end being charged high rates for preventive care. The health care law that President Obama signed into law in 2010 requires most insurers to pay for preventive care, according to USA Today, but some procedures, which are initially billed as preventative -- such as colonoscopies -- can turn into diagnostic procedures, saddling the patient with the bill.