Background: Despite Medicare, medical services are not equally used by elderly women and men in the United States. Our purpose is to examine gender differences in healthcare utilization among older Americans, the persistence of gender differences across race/ethnicity, and the roles of sociodemographic, health, and economic factors to explain differences. Methods: Data from the 1998-2000 Health and Retirement Study are used to investigate gender differences in use of hospital, outpatient surgery, home health, and physician services. Analyses are controlled for sociodemographic, health (medical conditions, functional health), and economic (income, wealth, education, health insurance) factors. Results: Women are significantly less likely to use hospital service (odds ratio [OR]=0.83) and outpatient surgery (OR=0.85) but are more likely to use home health care (OR=1.27) and physician services (OR=1.45), controlling for sociodemographics. Differences in health needs and economic resources partially mediate the gender differences in physician and home healthcare utilization but do not explain the gender differences in hospital service and outpatient surgery. Notably, African American, Hispanic, and white women compared with men show significantly less use of hospital services. Conclusions: Gender differences in medical use vary according to the type of services used and are largely consistent across racial/ethnic groups. As the size of the Medicare population increases, promoting equitable use of healthcare resources by both women and men is an important issue in developing healthcare policy and designing public health strategies.
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