Background. Racial/ethnic disparities are associated with lack of health insurance. Although the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) provides health insurance to low-income children, many of whom are members of racial/ethnic minority groups, little is known about whether SCHIP affects racial/ethnic disparities among children who enroll.

Objectives. The objectives of this study were to (1) describe demographic characteristics and previous health insurance experiences of SCHIP enrollees by race, (2) compare racial/ethnic disparities in medical care access, continuity, and quality before and during SCHIP, and (3) determine whether disparities before or during SCHIP are explained by sociodemographic and health system factors.

Methods. Pre/post–parent telephone survey was conducted just after SCHIP enrollment and 1 year after enrollment of 2290 children who had an enrollment start date in New York State's SCHIP between November 2000 and March 2001, stratified by race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic). The main outcome measures were usual source of care (USC), preventive care use, unmet needs, patterns of USC use, and parent-rated quality of care before versus during SCHIP.

Results. Children were white (25%), black (31%), or Hispanic (44%); 62% were uninsured ≥12 months before SCHIP. Before SCHIP, a greater proportion of white children had a USC compared with black or Hispanic children (95%, 86%, and 81%, respectively). Nearly all children had a USC during SCHIP (98%, 95%, and 98%, respectively). Before SCHIP, black children had significantly greater levels of unmet need relative to white children (38% vs 27%), whereas white and Hispanic children did not differ significantly (27% vs 29%). During SCHIP, racial/ethnic disparities in unmet need were eliminated, with unmet need at 19% for all 3 racial/ethnic groups. Before SCHIP, more white children made all/most visits to their USC relative to black or Hispanic children (61%, 54%, and 34%, respectively); all improved during SCHIP with no remaining disparities (87%, 86%, and 92%, respectively). Parent-rated visit quality improved for all groups, but preexisting racial/ethnic disparities remained during SCHIP, with improved yet relatively lower levels of satisfaction among parents of Hispanic children. Sociodemographic and health system factors did not explain disparities in either period.

Conclusions. Enrollment in SCHIP was associated with (1) improvement in access, continuity, and quality of care for all racial/ethnic groups and (2) reduction in preexisting racial/ethnic disparities in access, unmet need, and continuity of care. Racial/ethnic disparities in quality of care remained, despite improvements for all racial groups. Sociodemographic and health system factors did not add to the understanding of racial/ethnic disparities. SCHIP improves care for vulnerable children and reduces preexisting racial/ethnic disparities in health care.

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