OBJECTIVE: Health care financing is changing rapidly in the United States. We investigated whether and how health care access is changing concurrently with changes in financing, with special attention to a minority population. METHODS: We examined a longitudinal biracial (half African-American, half White) urban cohort of 3,565 individuals, aged 25-37 years old, in 1992-93 and again in 1995-96. We measured access by self-reported (1) health insurance status, (2) regular source of medical care, and (3) lack of care due to financial problems. RESULTS: In 1992-93, 30.3% of the cohort experienced at least one access barrier, with a decline to 26.8% in 1995-96 (P<.005). However, access improved more for Whites than for African Americans; and access improved for higher, but not for lower, income groups (7% improvement for high income, vs 2% deterioration for lower income, P<.01). In addition, there was an 11% to 19% absolute increase in individuals making co-payments for health care utilization across all race/sex groups, with African Americans having markedly higher proportions of cost-sharing. African-American, low income, and unemployed individuals reported more acute care, but fewer outpatient visits. Income and employment explained racial differences. CONCLUSION: While access has improved or stabilized for higher income groups, there is a widening gap according to income, accompanied by an acute care pattern for low income groups that may be both inadequate and cost inefficient.