Material Hardships and Health Care Utilization Among Low-Income Children with Special Health Care Needs
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OBJECTIVE: Material hardships, defined as difficulty meeting basic needs, are associated with adverse child health outcomes, including suboptimal health care utilization. Children with special health care needs (CSHCN) may be more vulnerable to the effects of hardships. Our objective was to determine associations between material hardships and health care utilization among CSHCN. METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional study surveying caregivers of 2- to 12-year-old CSHCN in a low-income, urban area. Independent variables were parent-reported material hardships: difficulty paying bills, food insecurity, housing insecurity, and health care hardship. Dependent variables were parent-reported number of emergency department (ED) visits, any hospital admission, and any unmet health care need. We used negative binomial and logistic regression to assess for associations between each hardship and each outcome. RESULTS: We surveyed 205 caregivers between July 2017 and May 2018 and analyzed the data in 2018. After adjustment, difficulty paying bills (incidence rate ratio [IRR], 1.51; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.08-2.12) and health care hardship (IRR, 1.72; 95% CI, 1.08-2.75) were associated with higher rates of ED visits. There were no associations between hardships and hospital admission. Difficulty paying bills (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 2.13; 95% CI, 1.14-3.98), food insecurity (AOR, 1.95; 95% CI, 1.02-3.71), and housing insecurity (AOR, 2.71; 95% CI, 1.36-5.40) were associated with higher odds of unmet health care need. CONCLUSIONS: Material hardships were associated with higher rates of ED visits and greater unmet health care need among low-income CSHCN. Future examination of the mechanisms of these associations is needed to enhance support for families of CSHCN.