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Kids Suffer When Parents Choose Between Health Care, Bills

Children in these homes are at greater risk of developmental delays, hospitalization, study finds

SUNDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- The health of children is harmed when families are forced to choose between medical care and basic household necessities such as food, rent and utilities, a new study found.

The study included 6,447 low-income caregivers with children ranging in age from newborn to 3 years. The participants were asked whether they needed to decide between medical care and household expenses, whether they had health insurance, and about their child's health history.

Five percent of the caregivers said they had to make trade-offs to pay for medical care. The most common ways of doing this were not paying utility bills (32 percent), rent/mortgage (25 percent), or doing without food (21 percent), said the researchers at Children's Health Watch, based at Boston Medical Center and Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

The study also found that children in families forced to make such trade-offs were at increased risk for poor health, hospitalization, developmental delays and shorter stature, which is a sign of malnutrition.

"Family hardships and high out-of-pocket health care costs are written on the bodies of babies," lead author Stephanie A. Ettinger de Cuba, a researcher with Children's Health Watch, said in a news release.

She and her colleagues found that families who decided to forego basic necessities in order to pay for health care had higher levels of education and were more likely to be married and breast-feed. The children in these families were more likely to be uninsured than children in families that didn't have to choose between medical care and basic necessities.

"This suggests that families who had to make trade-offs are experiencing a paradoxical situation in which caregivers do not earn enough to pay for private insurance for their children, nor do they earn so little that their children can qualify for public insurance, leaving them uninsured and unable to afford both medical costs and basic needs," Ettinger de Cuba said.

The study was to be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, in Vancouver, Canada.

More information

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offers details about low-cost health insurance for children and families.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, May 2, 2010

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