U.S. Unemployment Having Impact on Kids’ Health Care Coverage– and That Puts Their Health At Risk

Studies Demonstrate That Children Have Unmet Health Needs When Parents Lose Insurance

Saturday, May 03, 2008

CINCINNATI -- Two new studies conducted by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center point to the negative impact of parental job loss on children’s healthcare and the importance of having continuous health insurance coverage to meet children’s healthcare needs and reduce healthcare disparities.

The studies will be presented Saturday May 3 at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Honolulu.

“These studies describe a situation that should be of grave concern to parents, health care providers and policymakers,” says Gerry Fairbrother, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Health Policy and Clinical Effectiveness at Cincinnati Children’s who was an author of both studies. “The impact of not having insurance coverage in place year-round hurts children in many ways, including not being able to get the prescribed medications they need, and not having a regular source of health care – and that puts their health at risk.”

The first study shows that children whose parents lose or change jobs were twice as likely to lose their health care coverage as children whose parents did not lose or change jobs. In addition, children with private insurance were more than three times as likely to lose coverage.

“This is a particularly disturbing finding, coming at a time when job loss is becoming more common due to the economy,” says Dr. Fairbrother, PhD, the study’s lead author. “As unemployment rises, more and more children are likely to experience a break in coverage that affects their health care. Our study showed that most of these children are eligible for public coverage but are not getting the coverage to which they are entitled. Much more needs to be done to reach out to children with private coverage when their parents experience job loss or change.”

Dr. Fairbrother’s study examined data collected over two years from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a set of large-scale surveys of families and individuals, their medical providers, and employers across the United States. She examined the effect of parental job loss in an early round of data collection with children’s insurance coverage in a later round. Children who lost insurance when their parents lost or changed jobs were more likely to be poor, black, from Spanish-speaking homes and reside in the southern United States, according to Dr. Fairbrother.

The second study examined children who did not have continuous coverage -- insurance in place consistently year-round -- and found that they had unmet health care needs similar to the chronically uninsured. These children were three times as likely to have unfilled prescriptions and 14 times as likely not to have a usual source of health care as insured children.

This study used data on 15,447 children up to the age of 17 from the Ohio Family Health Survey, which was conducted from Oct. 2003 to July 2004. The lead author of the study was Joseph Schuchter, an epidemiologist at Cincinnati Children’s. Dr. Fairbrother was senior author.

The PAS meeting, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research and the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, is the largest international meeting to focus on research in child health.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, one of the leading pediatric research institutions in the nation, is dedicated to changing the outcome for children throughout the world. Cincinnati Children's ranks second among all pediatric institutions in the United States in grants from the National Institutes of Health. It has an established tradition of research excellence, with discoveries including the Sabin oral polio vaccine, the surfactant preparation that saves the lives of thousands of premature infants each year, and a rotavirus vaccine that saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of infants around the world each year. Current strategic directions include the translation of basic laboratory research into the development of novel therapeutics for the treatment of disease, and furthering the development of personalized and predictive medicine.

Contact Information

Jim Feuer, 513-636-4656, jim.feuer@cchmc.org