Objective: To examine trends in children's health access, utilization, and expenditures over time (2002-2009) by race/ethnicity, income, and insurance status/expected payer.
Methods: Data include a nationally representative random sample of children in the United States in 2002-2009 from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) and a nationwide sample of pediatric hospitalizations in 2005 and 2009 from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP).
Results: The percentage of children with private insurance coverage declined from 65.3% in 2002 to 60.6% in 2009. At the same time, the percentage of publicly insured children increased from 27.0% in 2002 to 33.1% in 2009. Fewer children reported being uninsured in 2009 (6.3%) compared to 2002 (7.7%). The most significant progress was for Hispanic children, for whom the percentage of uninsured dropped from 15.0% in 2002 to 10.3% in 2009. The uninsured were consistently the least likely to have access to a usual source of care, and this disparity remained unchanged in 2009. Non-Hispanic whites were most likely to report a usual source of care in both 2002 and 2009. The percentage of children with a doctor visit improved for whites and Hispanics (2009 vs 2002). In contrast, black children saw no improvement during this time period. Between 2002 and 2009, children's average total health care expenditures increased from $1294 to $1914. Average total expenditures nearly doubled between 2002 and 2009 for white children with private health insurance. Among infants, hospitalizations for pneumonia decreased in absolute number (41,000 to 34,000) and as a share of discharges (0.8% to 0.7%). Fluid and electrolyte disorders also decreased over time. Influenza appeared only in 2009 in the list of top 15 diagnoses with 11,000 hospitalization cases. For children aged 1 to 17, asthma hospitalization increased in absolute number (from 119,000 to 134,000) and share of discharges (6.6% to 7.6%). Skin infections appeared in the top 15 categories in 2009, with 57,000 cases (3.3% of total).
Conclusions: Despite significant improvement in insurance coverage, disparities by race/ethnicity and income persist in access to and use of care. Hispanic children experienced progress in a number of measures, while black children did not. Because racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities are often reported as single cross-sectional studies, our approach is innovative and improves on prior studies by examining population trends during the time period 2002-2009. Our study sheds light on children's disparities during the most recent economic crisis.
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