BACKGROUND: Many states have expanded public health insurance programs for children, and further expansions were proposed in recent national reform initiatives; yet the expansion of public insurance plans and the inclusion of a public option in state insurance exchange programs sparked controversies and raised new questions with regard to the quality and adequacy of various insurance types.
OBJECTIVES: We aimed to examine the comparative effectiveness of public versus private coverage on parental-reported children’s access to health care in low-income and middle-income families. METHODS/PARTICIPANTS/MEASURES: We conducted secondary data analyses of the nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, pooling years 2002 to 2006. We assessed univariate and multivariate associations between child’s full-year insurance type and parental-reported unmet health care and preventive counseling needs among children in low-income (n=28,338) and middle-income families (n=13,160).
RESULTS: Among children in families earning <200% of the federal poverty level, those with public insurance were significantly less likely to have no usual source of care compared with privately insured children (adjusted relative risk, 0.79; 95% confidence interval, 0.63-0.99). This was the only significant difference in 50 logistic regression models comparing unmet health care and preventive counseling needs among low-income and middle-income children with public versus private coverage.
CONCLUSIONS: The striking similarities in reported rates of unmet needs among children with public versus private coverage in both low-income and middle-income groups suggest that a public children’s insurance option may be equivalent to a private option in guaranteeing access to necessary health care services for all children.