State children's health insurance program affects access to dental care and use of dental services

Access to dental care is a major problem for low-income children in the United States. States have been able to make important gains in removing financial barriers to health care since 1997 because of Federal legislation to establish the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The program is the most significant expansion of public health insurance since the Medicaid program began in the 1960s. No national evaluation of the program has examined the impact of SCHIP on children's dental care.

Today, during the 35th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Dental Research, a team of researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics and the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) reports the results of a study examining the influence of SCHIP on the use of dental care and unmet dental needs, based on six years (1997-2002) of data from the National Health Interview Survey, a national survey conducted annually by the National Center for Health Statistics. The study included almost 29,000 children from 2 to 17 years of age, some of whom were interviewed before enactment of SCHIP, and others afterward, a design that allows for effects to be measured.

Compared with those children without insurance, those who obtained public coverage as a result of SCHIP implementation were 21.2% less likely to report unmet dental needs and 49.5% more likely to have visited a dentist within the preceding 6 months. These implementation effects were large enough to result in a measurable effect on access to dental care for the entire low-income population.

This study provides evidence that SCHIP implementation substantially reduced financial barriers for dental care and increased the use of dental services for low-income children in the United States.

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This is a summary of abstract #0008, "The Effects of SCHIP on Dental Care Access and Use", by H. Wang, E.C. Norton, and R.G. Rozier, of the National Center for Health Statistics and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to be presented at 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, 2006, in the Asia 1 room of the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, during the 35th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Dental Research.


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