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When Parents Are On Medicaid, Kids Get Better Health Care Too

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UW Health/Flickr
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When a parent has health insurance through Medicaid, their child is 29 percent more likely to receive an annual physical exam.

That’s according to a new study designed by a University of Pittsburgh Public Health researcher Eric T. Roberts, who calls this correlation between pediatric care and parental health insurance a "spill-over effect."

"We can't look at individuals in isolation," he explained. "When we help parents, we can help their kids." 

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Credit Sarah Boden/90.5 WESA
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Pitt Public Health economist Eric T. Roberts.

Previous research has shown low-income kids don’t go to the doctor as frequently as the children of higher income families. To understand how a parent's health coverage might affect this, Roberts and his team looked at more than 50,000 child-parent pairs from across the country. The pairs came from families with incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The researchers compared low-income kids with parents who were on Medicaid to those with parents who were not covered by Medicaid, by looking at how often each group attended a well-child visit. During an annual visits, pediatricians screen for growth and development and kids also receive preventative care such as vaccines. 

Roberts' team found that in states that expanded Medicaid, like Pennsylvania, the rate of kids attending well-child visits increased, even if the child was already eligible for coverage though the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

"Giving parents health insurance improves affordability for care for all family members, it facilitates access to the health care system," said Roberts. "Physicians practicing in large, multi-group practices can see parents and children within the same practice. There are broad, spill-over effects of providing coverage to parents that accrue to children."

He added when an entire family can signup for Medicaid at the same time, it reduces the administrative burden for resource-strapped families, further increasing accessibility to health care. 

Pennsylvania expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1, 2015, providing coverage to more than 700,000 who would otherwise not be eligible. 

The Roberts's was published this month in the journal Pediatrics.

Photo credit: UW Health/Flickr