Objectives: To describe the demographic characteristics, utilization of medical services, and health status of uninsured children compared with insured children in the United States and to assess the factors associated with lack of health insurance among children. An estimated 8 million children in the United States are uninsured. Medicaid expansions and tax credits have had little impact on the overall problem. An understanding of the characteristics of uninsured children is essential for the design of appropriate outreach and enrollment strategies, benefit packages, and health care provision arrangements for uninsured children.
Methods: Analysis of the 1988 Child Health Supplement of the National Health Interview Survey.
Results: Diverse groups of children in the United States lack health insurance. Residence in the South (odds ratio [OR], 2.3) and West (OR, 1.9. [corrected]) and being poor (OR, 2.2) or nearly poor (OR, 2.1) are independently associated with being uninsured. Substantial differences in both sources of care and utilization of medical services exist between uninsured and insured children. Uninsured children lack usual sources of routine care (OR, 3.1) and sick care (OR, 3.8) and also lack appropriate well-child care (OR, 1.5) compared with insured children. Neither being in fair or poor health nor emergency department use are significant independent predictors of being uninsured among children. Children who have a chronic disease, such as asthma, face difficulties of access to care and utilize substantially fewer outpatient and inpatient services.
Conclusions: Universal health insurance, rather than efforts directed at specific groups, appears to be the only way to provide health insurance for all US children. Uninsured and insured children reveal marked discrepancies in access to and utilization of medical services, including preventive services, but have similar rates of chronic health conditions and limitations of activity. Uninsured children do not appear to form a population that will incur higher mean annual expenditures for medical care compared with insured children.