UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Study suggests benefits to extending child-only health insurance to parents

– Extending health insurance for low-income children to their parents may help improve these children's access to a regular source of care as well as reduce perceived discrimination and breaks in coverage, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

The findings will be published early 2006 in the print issue of Health Services Research, but are now available online. They come three years after California legislators approved the expansion of Healthy Families, the state's public health insurance program for those 18 and under, to parents of eligible children. The expansion was never implemented due to lack of funding.

"This study asks whether having parents enrolled in a health insurance program would impact access to care for their children," said Sylvia Guendelman, UC Berkeley professor of maternal and child health and lead author of the study.

Using data from the 2001 California Health Interview Survey, the researchers analyzed the responses from 5,521 low-income parents whose children were eligible for public health insurance. They compared families in which the children and at least one parent were insured ("family coverage"), families in which only the children were insured ("child-only coverage"), and families with no insurance at all. The interview was administered to parents of children and directly to teens 13 and over.

Not surprisingly, they found that children in families with no health coverage had higher odds of lacking a usual source of care, of not seeing a dentist within the previous two years, and of not seeing a doctor within the previous year compared with children with child-only insurance and with children with an insured parent.

When comparing children in family coverage and child-only coverage groups, the researchers found that those in child-only coverage families were more likely to experience breaks in insurance coverage in the past year, to lack a usual source of care, and to perceive discrimination when receiving care.

"Those with child-only coverage tend to be kids from immigrant, predominantly Latino families, who seek care in the public sector," said Guendelman. "The public sector may be more overburdened and less available to offer care to these families, which may also have fewer resources to navigate the health care system."

Guendelman said the study findings suggest that parents who also have health insurance may know how to use the health system better, and may be more equipped to advocate for their children's care.

"States that are considering expanding their public health insurance programs to the parents of eligible children should consider these advantages," said Guendelman. "You want children to have timely access to health care and to get more continuity of care, particularly for preventive medicine. And for chronic conditions, there would be better follow-through if there are fewer breaks in coverage."

Other co-authors of this study are Doug Oman, UC Berkeley adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health, and Megan Wier and Veronica Angulo, both UC Berkeley graduate students in maternal and child health.