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Specialists Often Turn Away Kids With Public Insurance: Report
Date:6/16/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- Undercover research in Illinois reveals that medical specialists refuse appointments to publicly insured children with potentially urgent conditions six times more often than privately insured kids with identical health problems.

Posing as mothers of children with seven common health conditions -- including diabetes, uncontrolled asthma and severe depression -- research assistants phoned 273 clinics twice, a month apart, to investigate the impact of insurance status on the practices' decision to schedule an appointment.

Two-thirds of kids with public insurance were unable to get a doctor's appointment, compared to 11 percent of privately insured children. Kids covered by Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) who did receive appointments also faced far longer average wait times -- 42 days to see a specialist compared to 20 days for kids with private insurance.

"Early specialist intervention can make a difference in the long-term outcome. The study shows equal access doesn't exist," said senior study author Dr. Karin V. Rhodes, director of emergency care policy research in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "These are fairly urgent conditions, and at least as a parent, I would want to get the kid in earlier than three weeks -- and that was the wait for privately insured children."

The study is published June 16 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Federal law requires that Medicaid recipients have the same access to medical care as the general population in their community. Overall, only 34 percent of callers in the study with Medicaid-insured children were able to secure an appointment, compared to 89 percent of callers reporting Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO insurance plans.

In more than half of the calls, the "mothers" were asked for insurance information b
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