Medicaid Could Save Billions of Dollars Through Programs To Train Parents To Treat Minor Childhood Illnesses at Home
Medicaid could save "billions" of dollars annually if more low-income parents are trained to handle minor childhood illnesses at home rather than seeking treatment at an emergency department or physician clinic, according to a study by the University of California-Los Angeles/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rose, Wall Street Journal, 4/27). In the study, researchers gave 1,600 parents at 14 Head Start agencies a medical reference guide designed for readers with limited health literacy and instructions on how to use it. Parents of children enrolled in Head Start, a federal government child development program that serves children of low-income families from birth to age 5, participated in a survey about health care practices in their families three months prior to the training and six months following the training. Before the training, many parents said they were "very confident" about taking care of their sick children, but 49% said they would take a child with a runny nose or cough to a clinic rather than provide care at home. Additionally, more than half of the parents did not know how to care for a child with a temperature above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute news release, 4/15). During the training, parents were instructed to go first to the provided reference book, which detailed symptoms and treatment that can be provided at home. The guide also specified when it is appropriate to call a doctor.
Six months after undergoing training sessions, the percentage of parents who used the emergency department as a "first source of help" dropped to 32% from 69%, Dr. Ariella Herman, director of the Health Care Institute, said. Herman added that the number of days parents missed work or left early because of a child's illness also decreased by 41%. Researchers estimate that such a reduction in visits to EDs and physician clinics could reduce health care costs by $198 per HeadStart family per year, given an average $200 charge for an ED visit and an average $30 charge for a clinic visit. According to the Journal, the program could reduce Medicaid expenditures by as much as $2.38 billion if it were expanded. The Journal reports that most children enrolled in Head Start receive health coverage through Medicaid. Program officials plan to expand the program to 12,000 families by the end of 2005 (Rose, Wall Street Journal, 4/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.