PITTSBURGH, June 9, 1998 — Some children reported headaches and mentioned that their grades had suffered because they couldn’t see the blackboard. Others weren’t allowed to participate in school sports or field trips. What all of these children had in common is that their parents couldn't afford health insurance for them.
University of Pittsburgh researchers monitored children enrolled in free or low-cost health insurance programs in western Pennsylvania for a year and reported that after enrolling, these children were able to get the medical care they needed and also were able to freely participate in childhood activities such as field trips, sports teams and other programs that require health insurance coverage. Their findings were published in the June 10 Journal of the American Medical Association.
"I was not surprised to find that having insurance decreased delays in receiving necessary care and also decreased unmet medical needs, however, I was surprised to realize the extent to which families are burdened by not having insurance," remarked Judith R. Lave, Ph.D., professor of health economics at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.
In fact, 73.5 percent of parents reported being worried, scared or stressed out due to lack of health insurance for their children. Another surprising finding reported by the Pitt research team was the impact of health insurance on the children’s activities. Before enrolling, 12 percent of children were limited in their activities.
"These free and low-cost health insurance programs do more than provide children with the necessary medical care, they also give back children their childhood," commented Charles LaVallee, vice president and executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Caring Foundation for Children and co-author of the study.
Families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy their own health insurance fall though the cracks, said Mr. LaVallee. "These programs fill the gaps," he added.
Pitt researchers interviewed the parents of 1,031 children at the time of enrollment into either the Blue CHIP Program or the Caring Program, both of which are administered by the Western Pennsylvania Caring Foundation and provide free or low-cost health insurance for working, lower-income families. The researchers then followed up with interviews six and 12 months after enrollment.
Dr. Lave and her colleagues reported that a year after enrolling in these programs, 99 percent of the children had a primary care physician, up from 89 percent at enrollment. For dental care, the increase in the number of children receiving routine care jumped 25 percent after enrollment. At the same time, visits to the emergency department decreased.
"After enrolling in these programs, we found that children were more likely to receive care in a physician’s practice instead of in the emergency room, which is a more appropriate use of health care services," noted Dr. Lave.
More than 10 million children in the United States do not have health insurance. The federal government has established the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to fund initiatives that provide coverage to these children.
"Western Pennsylvania’s programs have been considered national models in providing health insurance for children and in demonstrating to legislators that providing this coverage is cost effective and enables families to take the necessary steps toward self-sufficiency," stated Mr. LaVallee.
Last week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala approved Pennsylvania’s plan to expand its Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing up to $117 million annually in new federal funds.
"Our study has demonstrated that expanding health insurance coverage for children has a positive impact on children and their families and, overall, represents a sound expenditure of public funds," added Dr. Lave. For additional information, please visit the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health website.