So often, the focus has been on getting uninsured
children covered. While this is certainly a very laudable goal, far less
attention has been paid to the adequacy of this coverage. Does it offer
benefits or cover services that meet the child’s needs? Does it allow the child to see the
health care providers he or she needs? Are the out-of-pocket costs for this
coverage affordable to the family?
A recent study in the New England Journal
of Medicine looked at the adequacy of health coverage for children and
discovered some pretty depressing results. Relying on data from the National
Survey of Children’s Health,
the authors estimate that 19.3% (or 14.1 million) of all U.S. children were
underinsured in 2007; a figure that far exceeds the number of children without
coverage. The results varied by group – with older children, Hispanic and
African American children, as well as those with special health care needs more
likely to be underinsured.
Interestingly, among those with continuous coverage,
children with private coverage were far more likely to be underinsured than
their publicly-covered counterparts. This is likely due to the fact that the
most common reason for underinsurance was that the out-of-pocket costs were
“unreasonable” to the family and Medicaid and CHIP provide better protection
against these expenses.
Similar to their uninsured peers, children with
inadequate insurance were found more likely to be without a medical home, to
have delayed or gone without needed care, and to have difficulty accessing
As we move forward with implementing health reform, this
study should drive home an important point – coverage isn’t everything. The
adequacy of that coverage may be just as vital to children’s health and access
to needed care.