June 22, 2007

Study spots insurance gaps for disabled teens

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Todd Callahan, M.D.

Study spots insurance gaps for disabled teens

William Cooper, M.D.

William Cooper, M.D.

A majority of young adults with disabilities may face lengthy breaks in insurance coverage, according to a study by researchers at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Writing in Pediatrics, Todd Callahan, M.D., assistant professor of Adolescent Medicine, and William Cooper, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, found that 56 percent of young adults with disabilities reported gaps in insurance coverage, with an average of 15 months with no insurance.

The study analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2001 Survey of Income Program and Participation. The three-year study looked at 5,170 young adults, ages 16 to 25. There were 599 subjects who met the definition of having a disability: a reported learning or mental impairment or limitations in activities and daily living, or work because of a physical mental condition and/or the use of assistive devices such as hearing aids or canes for more than six months.

Callahan and Cooper estimate that more than 500,000 children with disabilities reach adulthood each year. In addition to acute health issues that arise, young adults with chronic conditions are likely to have ongoing health care needs during this critical transition period.

A concern is that many young adults with disabilities become ineligible for coverage from their parent's private health insurance once they turn 19. Full-time college students may be able to keep their parent's policy until graduating, but the study found once these young adults are no longer on their parent's insurance they are twice as likely to be uninsured than children or older adults.

“In prior studies, we found that uninsured young adults with disabilities were more likely to report that they had delayed or missed getting needed health care than peers with continuous health insurance coverage,” Callahan said.

“There is reason to believe that these gaps in coverage may be important barriers to health care access for these youth.”

The authors identified that additional research should examine the implications of non-insurance on the health and health care access of young adults with disabilities.

“The population of children with chronic health conditions who mature into adulthood continues to grow each year as we find better and better ways to treat their health problems. We really need to find the best solution to ensure these young adults continue to have access to needed health care,” Cooper said.