"But if you really care about improving access to health care for children, their parents' needs for health insurance coverage shouldn't be ignored," Lavarreda said.
For the study, DeVoe and her colleagues pooled five years of data from a national survey of U.S. households. The sample included more than 43,000 children ages 2 to 17.
To assess children's access to health care, the researchers looked at a number of variables, including gaps in coverage over the previous 12 months, no usual source of care, no doctor visits in the past year, fewer than yearly dental visits, and other problems accessing health care and preventive counseling services.
Not surprisingly, uninsured children had the highest rates of unmet health-care needs. But the study also showed an association between parents' insurance status and children's access to health care.
"Parents who are themselves uninsured may have other constraints on whether they can get health care for their children," Lavarreda noted. They may not be able to take time from work to take their children to the doctor, for example, she said.
"Additionally, parents who are uninsured may have difficulties navigating the health-care system and may be unfamiliar with how to obtain services," Lavarreda said.
The authors found no significant difference in preventive counseling services by race or ethnicity. Hispanic children were actually less likely to miss out on preventive counseling compared with non-Hispanic whites. DeVoe said she suspects that these families are accessing care through community health centers, where nurses, nursing assistants and other non-physician clinicians are spending time counseling families.
Even in families where the parents and children are insured, significant percentages lack preventive counseling, which sugges
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