BACKGROUND:

Six million US children are uninsured, despite two-thirds being eligible for Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and minority children are at especially high risk. The most effective way to insure uninsured children, however, is unclear.

METHODS:

We conducted a randomized trial of the effects of parent mentors (PMs) on insuring uninsured minority children. PMs were experienced parents with ≥1 Medicaid/CHIP-covered child who received 2 days of training, then assisted families for 1 year with insurance applications, retaining coverage, medical homes, and social needs; controls received traditional Medicaid/CHIP outreach. The primary outcome was obtaining insurance 1 year post-enrollment.

RESULTS:

We enrolled 237 participants (114 controls; 123 in PM group). PMs were more effective (P< .05 for all comparisons) than traditional methods in insuring children (95% vs 68%), and achieving faster coverage (median = 62 vs 140 days), high parental satisfaction (84% vs 62%), and coverage renewal (85% vs 60%). PM children were less likely to have no primary care provider (15% vs 39%), problems getting specialty care (11% vs 46%), unmet preventive (4% vs 22%) or dental (18% vs 31%) care needs, dissatisfaction with doctors (6% vs 16%), and needed additional income for medical expenses (6% vs 13%). Two years post-PM cessation, more PM children were insured (100% vs 76%). PMs cost $53.05 per child per month, but saved $6045.22 per child insured per year.

CONCLUSIONS:

PMs are more effective than traditional Medicaid/CHIP methods in insuring uninsured minority children, improving health care access, and achieving parental satisfaction, but are inexpensive and highly cost-effective.

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