Background: Numerous studies have demonstrated that insurance status influences the amount of ambulatory care received by children, but few have assessed the role of insurance as a determinant of children's access to primary care. We studied the effect of health insurance on children's access to primary care.
Methods: We analyzed a sample of 49,367 children under 18 years of age from the 1993-1994 National Health Interview Survey, a nationwide household survey. The overall rate of response was 86.5 percent. The survey included questions on insurance coverage and access to primary care.
Results: An estimated 13 percent of U.S. children did not have health insurance in 1993-1994. Uninsured children were less likely than insured children to have a usual source of care (75.9 percent vs. 96.2 percent, P<0.001). Among those with a usual source of care, uninsured children were more likely than insured children to have no regular physician (24.3 percent vs. 13.8 percent, P<0.001), to be without access to medical care after normal business hours (11.8 percent vs. 7.1 percent, P<0.001), and to have families that were dissatisfied with at least one aspect of their care (19.6 percent vs. 14.0 percent, P=0.01). Uninsured children were more likely than insured children to have gone without needed medical, dental, or other health care (22.2 percent vs. 6.1 percent, P<0.001). Uninsured children were also less likely than insured children to have had contact with a physician during the previous year (67.4 percent vs. 83.8 percent, P<0.001). All differences remained significant after we controlled for potential confounders using linear and logistic regression.
Conclusions: Among children, having health insurance is strongly associated with access to primary care. The new children's health insurance program enacted as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 may substantially improve access to and use of primary care by children.