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Hispanic Youths Tend To Be Sicker and Lack Insurance, Study Says

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Hispanic children are more likely than their white and black peers to have health problems and to have no insurance when in need of care, according to a federal report that provides an up-to-date and sometimes bleak picture of American children's health.

The study, "Children's Health 1996," also found that minority children and teenagers are far less likely than others to have a regular source of health care. Children without a regular doctor or clinic are less likely to get preventive-health services.

And just because parents work doesn't mean that children will get health coverage through a parent's employer. Almost 90 percent of the children with no health insurance live in homes where an adult is working, the report says. When families allow health problems to go untreated, the most common reason given is because they cannot afford it.

The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, the division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that conducts research on a broad range of health-care issues, released the report last week. Congress created the agency in 1989.

The report focuses on health insurance, access to health care, and health status, and is presented in an easy-to-read format.

State Action

It is particularly timely as state leaders are now in the midst of making decisions about extending health coverage to more uninsured children. Congress last year established the Children's Health Insurance Program, or chip, a five-year, $24 billion grant program that will enable states to provide coverage to more children. Under the program, which went into effect Oct. 1, states can either set up a new CHIP program, expand Medicaid, or use a combination of both funding sources. They must provide matching funds to receive the federal dollars, but the amount they have to put up is less than it would be if they were using the regular Medicaid program.

So far, 18 state plans have been submitted, four of which have already been approved. In the remaining states, the plans are still working their way through the legislatures, and in a few cases, state officials are undecided about taking advantage of the CHIP program.

According to "Children's Health 1996," close to 11 million children were uninsured in 1996. In addition, at least 3.3 million children younger than 13 and more than 1 million older than that were eligible for Medicaid coverage but were not enrolled in the federal health-insurance program for low-income people.

The data for the report were drawn from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Information from the survey will be used to produce future reports on such issues as immunization, employment, the effects of managed care, and the amounts paid for health-care services.

Future reports are also likely to shine more light on the reasons why Hispanic children fare worse in the health-care arena and why children of working parents are uninsured.

"Children's Health 1996" is available free of charge from the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Publications Clearinghouse, PO Box 8547, Silver Spring, MD 20907; (800) 358-9295. The publication number is 98-0008.

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