1) To examine age variation in unmet need/delayed care, access, utilization, and restricted activities attributable to lack of health insurance in children before they receive health insurance; and 2) to examine the effect of health insurance on these indicators within each age group of children (in years).
We use cohort data on children before and after receiving health insurance. The study population consists of 750 children, 0 through 19 years of age, newly enrolling in two children's health programs. The families of the newly enrolled children were interviewed at the time of their enrollment (baseline), and again at 6 months and 1 year after enrollment. The dependent variables measured included access to regular provider, utilization, unmet need or delayed health care, and restrictions on activities attributable to health insurance status. All these indicator variables were examined by age groups (0–5, 6–10, 11–14, and 15–19 years of age). χ2tests were performed to determine whether these dependent variables varied by age at baseline. Using logistic regression, odds ratios were calculated for baseline indicators by age group of child, adjusting for variables commonly found to be associated with health insurance status and utilization. Changes in indicator variables from before to after receiving health insurance within each age group were documented and tested using the McNemar test. A comparison group of families of children enrolling newly 12 months later were interviewed to identify any potential effects of trend.
All ages of children saw statistically significant improvements in access, reduced unmet/delayed care, dental utilization, and childhood activities. Before obtaining health insurance, older children, compared with younger children, were more likely to have had unmet/delayed care, to have not received health care, to have low access, and to have had activities limited by their parents. This pattern held for all types of care except dental care. Age effects were strong and independent of covariates. After being covered by health insurance, the majority of the delayed care, low utilization, low access, and limited activities in the older age groups (11–14 and 15–19 years) was eliminated. Thus, as levels of unmet need, delayed care, and limitations in activities approached zero in all age groups by 1 year after receipt of health insurance, age variation in these variables was eliminated. By contrast, age variation in utilization remained detectable yet greatly reduced.
Health insurance will reduce unmet need, delayed care, and restricted childhood activities in all age groups. Health care professionals and policy makers also should be aware of the especially high health care delay, unmet need, and restricted activities experienced by uninsured older children. The new state children's health insurance programs offer the potential to eliminate these problems. Realization of this potential requires that enrollment criteria, outreach strategies, and delivery systems be effectively fashioned so that all ages of children are enrolled in health insurance.