Parents' language barrier may prevent eligible children from receiving government-sponsored health insurance, says study

Second study finds children of uninsured parents also likely to be uninsured

PITTSBURGH, June 26 -- More than five million children who are eligible for Medicaid -- the federal/state health insurance program for certain low-income and needy people -- are not on the program's rolls, and a University of Pittsburgh study suggests that parents' unfamiliarity with the English language could be a major factor. The results of the study of more than 12,000 families with children under the age of 21 were presented today at the annual meeting of the Association for Health Services Research in Los Angeles.

"In comparing the populations of children who are enrolled in Medicaid with those who are eligible but not enrolled, we found the most significant difference was language related," said Chyongchiou J. Lin, Ph.D., assistant professor of Health Services Administration at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), and principal investigator of the study.

Among Medicaid-eligible children, 29 percent of Hispanics were uninsured, compared with 19 percent white, 17 percent African-American and 12 percent Asian/Pacific or other. Of the group of non-enrolled eligible Hispanics, 75 percent chose to be interviewed in Spanish, suggesting to researchers that difficulty with the English language may be responsible for non-enrollment. "While we cannot say definitively that the parents of eligible children not enrolled in Medicaid do not speak English, the study results do show that a significant number of individuals in this group feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish," Dr. Lin said. "Because Medicaid enrollment applications are fairly complicated, it is possible that someone with a limited ability to speak English would also have a limited understanding of the enrollment procedure."

Also significant was the finding that Medicaid-enrolled children are more likely to live with female single parents. Conversely, most o

Contact: Kathryn Duda
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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