Children Who Have Health Insurance Lead Better Lives

Improvement in quality of life is variable but undeniable, researchers say

February 07, 2000

While Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley debate how to best provide health coverage to millions of uninsured children, researchers at Children's Hospital at Strong say New York's Child Health Plus program is already making strides toward that goal.

The proof, they say, is in a three-year study of children statewide who joined New York's Child Health Plus program after being without health insurance. Most were from families classified as "working poor" - earning too little money to afford health insurance, but making too much to be eligible for Medicaid. Child Health Plus, started in 1991, offers these families health insurance for their children at significantly reduced prices.

"I think the results of this study are screaming out to us that children need to be covered by health insurance," says Peter Szilagyi, M.D., M.P.H., the study's lead author. "The data shows that if you give children health insurance, you will improve their lives."

The study is published in this month's issue of Pediatrics, which will be released Feb. 8. The findings indicate that those with Child Health Plus were not only more likely to have a primary care physician than those without health insurance, they were also more likely to actually visit the doctor to receive medical check-ups and treatment.

That was especially the case in New York City, one of four regions of the state that researchers studied. Regardless of where in the state they lived, though, parents overwhelmingly said the quality of care their children received improved after joining Child Health Plus, as did their satisfaction with the medical community.

Szilagyi says the study is timely considering how many times health insurance and children have been mentioned in recent political debates and discussions. President Clinton made a point of mentioning in his recent State of the Union address.

Some of the information from the Children's Hospital at Strong study has already been used to make significant policy reforms. In 1996, Congress used preliminary data to justify the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Enacted as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, SCHIP helps states offer affordable health insurance to low-income, uninsured children in working families that earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid, yet not enough to afford typical commercial insurance plans.

The SCHIP program made monies available to every state so they could start similar versions of New York's plan, which was unique when it was launched in 1991.

Szilagyi's research team included Jack Zwanziger, Ph.D.; Lance Rodewald, M.D.; Jane Holl, M.D., M.P.H.; Dana Mukamel, Ph.D.; Sarah Trafton, J.D.; Laura Pollard Shone, M.S.W.; Andrew Dick, Ph.D.; Lynne Jarrell, M.A., M.P.A.; and Richard Raubertas, Ph.D.

Researchers at Children's Hospital at Strong have been working for nearly a decade to investigate ways to improve the health care of uninsured, poor, and vulnerable children.

Led by Szilagyi, a separate team is currently playing a significant role in an unparalleled effort to understand how to improve health care for our nation's most vulnerable children.

In 1999, the team and Children's Hospital was awarded a three-year, $1.75 million grant, the largest of nine grants nationwide. The money will help researchers determine which health insurance and delivery features work best for low-income children - particularly minority children and those with special health care needs.

"This new grant will help our nation to devise a more rational and effective health care system for vulnerable children and adolescents," Szilagyi says. "We owe it to them."

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