Objective. Twenty-three million people, accounting for >58% of Medicaid enrollees, are enrolled in Medicaid managed care programs. Although the expectation of management in Medicaid managed care programs necessitates restrictions in use of some services sought by patients and families, the circumstances surrounding care denial and related access problems in vulnerable populations of children have not been studied. The objective of this study was to identify experiences with care denial reported by families in TennCare, Tennessee's managed care program for Medicaid enrollees and uninsured.

Methods. Primary caregivers for 399 children who were enrolled in TennCare and presented for care at 21 pediatric and family medicine sites throughout Tennessee participated in a face-to-face interview.

Results. Of the 399 caregivers who participated in the study, 146 (36.6%) reported that their child experienced denial of care in the previous 12 months at a physician's office (12.5% of those interviewed), dentist's office (13.8%), or pharmacy (20.0%). For denial of any 1 type of care, families of children with chronic conditions (multivariable odds ratio [OR]: 2.05; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.41–2.99) and those whose parents had >12 years of education (OR: 1.80; CI: 1.21–2.70) were more likely to report denial of care; families of black children were less likely to report denial than white children (OR: 0.34; CI: 0.20–0.56). Content analysis of caregiver perceptions identified provider concerns about reimbursement as a factor in denials. Of the children who could not be seen by a physician, caregivers perceived that 12.2% became sicker as a result of the delay in care; 16.3% reported an emergency department visit after the denial.

Conclusions. More than one third of TennCare families reported denials of care for their children in the previous year, and factors surrounding these denials were identified. Given the large number of Americans who receive health care through Medicaid managed care programs like TennCare, more research is needed to understand the implications of denied care for children and families who are enrolled in these programs.

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