Estimates of the number of uninsured people in the United States usually exclude those with discontinuous coverage. The effects of gaps in insurance coverage for children on access to and use of ambulatory care are poorly understood.
We analyzed a sample of 26,955 children under 18 years of age from the 2000 and 2001 National Health Interview Surveys. Children with discontinuous health insurance coverage were compared with those who were uninsured all year and with those who had public or private full-year coverage.
During the last 12 months before they were interviewed, 6.6 percent of children in the United States had no insurance and an additional 7.7 percent had gaps in insurance. Children who had full-year insurance coverage (private or public) had low rates of unmet health care needs and good access to care (delayed care, unmet medical care, and unfilled prescriptions were reported in <3 percent, and <5 percent had no usual place of care). Access to care was much worse for children who were uninsured for part of the year and for those who were uninsured for the full year (delayed care, 20.2 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively; unmet medical care, 13.4 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively; unfilled prescriptions, 9.9 percent and 10.0 percent, respectively; P<0.01 for all comparisons with children with full-year, private insurance coverage). In multivariate analyses adjusting for age, income, race or ethnic group, region, citizenship, family structure, parental employment, and health status, the differences in access to care persisted. As compared with the parents of children with full-year, private insurance, parents of children uninsured for the full year were far more likely to report delaying care (adjusted odds ratio, 12.65; 95 percent confidence interval, 9.45 to 16.94), as were parents of children uninsured for part of the year (adjusted odds ratio, 13.65; 95 percent confidence interval, 10.41 to 17.90).
Children with gaps in health insurance coverage commonly do not seek medical care, including preventive visits, and do not get prescriptions filled. These findings are important for both research and policy and point to the need for more encompassing and sensitive measures of the situation of being uninsured.