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Keywords:

  • Child health;
  • child health insurance;
  • immigrant health

Objective. To examine whether providing health insurance coverage to undocumented children affects the health of those children.

Data Sources/Study Setting. The data come from a survey of 1235 parents of enrollees in the new insurance program (“Healthy Kids”) in Santa Clara County, California. The survey was conducted from August 2003 to July 2004.

Study Design. Cross-sectional study using a group of children insured for one year as the study group (N=626) and a group of newly insured children as the comparison group (N=609). Regression analysis is used to adjust for differences in the groups according to a range of characteristics.

Data Collection. Parents were interviewed by telephone in either English or Spanish (most responded in Spanish). The response rate was 89 percent.

Principal Findings. The study group—who were children continuously insured by Healthy Kids for one year—were significantly less likely to be in fair/poor health and to have functional impairments than the comparison group of newly insured children (15.9 percent versus 28.5 percent and 4.5 percent versus 8.4 percent, respectively). Impacts were largest among children who enrolled for a specific medical reason (such as an illness or injury); indeed, the impact on functional limitations was evident only for this subgroup. The study group also had fewer missed school days than the comparison group, but the difference was significant only among children who did not enroll for a medical reason.

Conclusions. Health insurance coverage of undocumented children in Santa Clara County was associated with significant improvements in children's health status. The size of this association could be overstated, since the comparison sample included some children who enrolled because of an illness or other temporary health problem that would have improved even without insurance coverage. However, even after limiting the study sample to children who did not enroll for a medical reason, a significant association remained between children's reported health and their health coverage. We thus cautiously conclude that Healthy Kids had a favorable impact on children's health.