Purpose: This study examines the impact of dental coverage provided through a health insurance program for low-income children on the use of dental services in Western Pennsylvania.
Methods: A before-after design with a control group was used. Telephone interviews were conducted with the families of newly enrolled children at the time of enrollment, at 6 months and at 12 months after enrollment. Both structured and open-ended questions were asked about the use of health care services, unmet need/delayed care and causes and consequences of unmet need/delayed care. A second group of families were interviewed 12 months after the study group was initially interviewed to form a comparison sample. The study population consisted of 750 children who were continuously enrolled in the program for 12 months and 460 comparison children.
Results: After enrollment, the proportion of children with a regular source of dental care increased 42%, while the proportion of those who had a preventive dental visit increased 50%. The proportion of children reporting unmet need/delayed care for dental services fell from 43% to 10%. The program had a larger impact on the use of dental services than on the use of medical services.
Conclusions: The extension of dental benefits to SCHIP-eligible children in Western Pennsylvania had a positive impact on children by increasing their access to dental care and to preventive dental services.