Report: Kids with Health Insurance Get Needed Care, While Uninsured Kids Go Without

    • August 14, 2008

A report released today on children’s health shows that having health insurance makes an enormous difference in whether kids receive the care they need, especially if they are chronically ill. The study, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, shows that uninsured children are three times more likely not to visit a doctor's office in the course of a year than are insured children. Insured kids are also far more likely to have had a regular check-up to keep them healthy. 

In addition to showing that children with insurance receive important health care services, the report takes a deeper look at kids with chronic health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. It underscores that government insurance programs like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) are vital resources to keep kids with chronic illnesses out of the hospital. More than one in three chronically ill children nationwide is enrolled in one of these programs and has consistent access to needed care because of them.

“SCHIP and Medicaid provide an important safety net for America’s families, especially for families with chronically ill children. These programs allow kids to get the care they need, so that they can feel better, grow stronger and thrive in school,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “When children who need care do not receive it, their conditions worsen and are harder and more expensive to treat later. Because of Medicaid and SCHIP, millions of kids can get regular check-ups, take the medications they need to stay well and see a doctor when they are sick. Parents of any uninsured child should find out if their family is eligible for low-cost or free insurance before sending their kids back to school.”

A Needed Lifeline: Chronically Ill Children and Public Health Insurance Coverage was released today by RWJF to kick off its annual Cover the Uninsured Back-to-School Campaign, a nationwide effort to enroll eligible children in public health coverage programs during the back-to-school season. The report’s data show just how strong a safety net SCHIP and Medicaid are for kids, especially those who need health care to treat serious, ongoing illnesses.

The findings show:

  • Kids with insurance are more likely to receive routine care. Thirty-one percent of all uninsured kids in America did not visit a doctor’s office last year, compared to just nine percent of children with insurance. Three out of four insured kids (77%) received a “well child” check-up in the past year, compared to less than half of all kids without insurance (45%).    
  • Millions of kids benefit from public health insurance programs. Public programs are a lifeline for children who might otherwise be uninsured, especially kids with chronic conditions. About 10 million children nationwide have chronic illnesses—3.6 million of whom are covered by SCHIP or Medicaid. Data show kids who are chronically ill and covered by public insurance receive health services at the same levels as chronically ill kids with private insurance. Uninsured children with chronic illness receive far less care.
  • Uninsured children with chronic needs are far more likely to delay or forgo care. Nationally, 10 percent of children with chronic health needs who are enrolled in public programs postpone or skip needed care, compared to 41 percent of uninsured kids who have chronic health needs.
  • Kids with chronic conditions who are enrolled in public insurance programs are more likely to have a personal doctor than chronically ill uninsured children. Just eight percent of kids with chronic health conditions who are enrolled in SCHIP or Medicaid nationwide do not have a personal doctor, compared to 21 percent of uninsured children.
  • SCHIP and Medicaid enable kids with special health needs to receive needed mental health care. Just 16 percent of kids with special needs who are enrolled in SCHIP or Medicaid nationwide missed mental health care services nationwide, compared to 43 percent of uninsured children.

The analysis was compiled by researchers at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, located at the University of Minnesota. It uses the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (2005-2007 State and Local Area Integrated Telephone Survey and the 2007 National Health Interview Survey).

“This report shows that programs like SCHIP are a true lifeline for vulnerable children,” said Lavizzo-Mourey. “Hard-working parents need these programs, and their children benefit greatly because of them. Making sure kids have insurance helps safeguard the health of our children and ultimately the strength of our nation.”

Signed into law in 1997, SCHIP provides each state with federal funds to design a health insurance program for vulnerable kids. Programs benefit families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance. Medicaid is an important joint federal-state program that provides health insurance coverage to certain categories of low-income people, including children. For more than 40 years, Medicaid has helped low-income families pay for some or all of their medical bills. For both programs, the states determine eligibility rules, benefit packages and payment levels. With SCHIP set to expire early next year, experts say that unless it is reauthorized and fully funded, coverage for millions of vulnerable children nationwide will be in jeopardy.

Despite the success of public programs like SCHIP and Medicaid, millions of children remain uninsured. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data show that more than 9 million children remain uninsured nationwide—more than the total number of kids enrolled in the first and second grades in U.S. public schools. Most uninsured children come from families in which at least one parent works full-time. 

Experts estimate that most uninsured children are likely eligible for low-cost or free health care coverage through SCHIP or Medicaid, but have not yet enrolled. Programs exist in every state and the District of Columbia. Eligibility varies by state and is based on family size and income, but children in families earning up to $42,000 a year or more may qualify for low-cost or free health coverage. Parents can call toll-free 1 (877) KIDS-NOW to find out if their uninsured children are eligible.

The complete report, A Needed Lifeline, is available below.  

Fast Facts:

  • Parents with uninsured children can call 1-877-KIDS-NOW to determine if their child is eligible for low-cost or free health coverage.
  • About seven in 10 uninsured kids are eligible for low-cost or free health care coverage, but their parents may not realize it.
  • Every state has a Medicaid and SCHIP program. Children in a family of four earning up to $42,000 a year or more may qualify. Eligibility is based on family size and income. Grandparents or anyone who cares for an uninsured child should tell parents about these programs and urge them to call for more information.
  • More information about SCHIP is available at