Objectives: It is well known that asthmatic children receiving Medicaid use the emergency department (ED) more frequently than otherwise-insured asthmatic children. However, the extent to which this difference is attributable to provider characteristics, medication use, access to primary care, and symptomatology is poorly understood. These factors were explored as independent predictors of health care utilization.
Methods: Baseline data from a prospective cohort study of childhood asthma severity were used. Subjects were recruited from seven New England hospitals. Home interviews collected data on monthly symptoms, health care visits, insurance status, as well as sociodemographics and asthma-related risk factors (n = 804). Characteristics of providers' practices, board certifications, and asthma specialty were obtained from Folio's Medical Dictionaries for Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Results: After adjusting for frequency of asthma-related primary care visits, primary provider practice type, use of asthma specialist, age, gender, medication use, and symptomatology, Medicaid children still used the ED more frequently for asthma services than privately insured children (RR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.1, 2.5). In general, race/ethnicity did not modify the relationship between insurance status and health care use, except that black children receiving Medicaid were 90% (95% CI, 0.0, 0.7) less likely to have had > or = 3 routine primary care visits for asthma in the previous year than black privately insured children. White children receiving Medicaid were 2.5 (95% CI, 1.0, 6.9) times more likely to use the ED for asthma than privately insured white children.
Conclusions: The results suggest that enabling, structural, and need factors do not necessarily explain observed differences in pediatric asthma health care use by insurance status. Future investigation must explore other explanatory factors such as maternal attitudes and beliefs and patient-provider communication.