Many parents of uninsured minority children are unaware they are eligible for Medicaid or other government assistance, according to a new study. The research, published March 22 in the International Journal for Equity in Health, revealed that many of these children had suboptimal health, poor access to care, and major unmet needs.
“Our findings indicate an urgent need for better parental education about Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),” Glenn Flores, MD, chair of health policy research for the Medica Research Institute in Minnetonka, Minn., said in a news release. “The findings also indicate a need to improve Medicaid/CHIP outreach and enrollment,” he added.
According to the study background, minority children in the United States have the highest uninsured rates. Hispanic and African-American children account for 53 percent of uninsured American children despite comprising only 48 percent of the U.S. child population.
The goal of the study was to examine parental awareness of Medicaid/CHIP programs and to determine why such a large number of minority children were uninsured. The researchers also looked at how a lack of insurance affected the children’s health, access to care, unmet needs and burden on family finances.
For the study, 297 uninsured Medicaid/CHIP-eligible Hispanic and African-American children were recruited at 97 urban Texas community sites, including supermarkets, health fairs and schools. The research team analyzed data on socioeconomic characteristics, duration of uninsurance, and reasons for uninsurance. They also looked at the child’s health status, special healthcare needs, access to medical and dental care, out-of-pocked costs for care, and financial burden on the family.
Findings showed that 49 percent of the parents did not know their child was eligible for Medicaid/CHIP. The average uninsured time was 14 months, and 5 percent had never been insured. The most common reason for loss of insurance was that it expired and was never renewed. High insurance costs were cited as the reason for never having insurance.
The researchers also found that 38 percent of the children had suboptimal health, 66 percent had special healthcare needs, and 64 percent did not have a primary healthcare provider. Unmet needs included general and mental healthcare in seven out of 10 cases. Dental care was lacking for 67 percent of the kids and vision care for 46 percent. Mobility aids/devices were an issue for 67 percent and specialty care was absent in for 57 percent of the children.
When children were uninsured and had health problems, family dynamics and finances were severely impacted. The study found that 35 percent of parents reported financial problems, 23 percent decreased their work hours, and 10 percent stopped working.
The findings, say the researchers, suggest that enhancing awareness and outreach will be crucial to covering more uninsured children. “Our data indicate that special efforts should be made to target populations at highest risk of parental unawareness of children’s Medicaid/CHIP eligibility,” Flores said in the news release.