Research Shows Dramatic Savings For Medicaid

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Medicaid Savings

New research proves that a "dose" of hands-on health care training can transform parents' abilities to care for common childhood ailments at home -- and save Medicaid millions of dollars annually.

Tracking 9,240 Head Start families enrolled in a health literacy program -- and impacting nearly 20,000 children in 35 states -- researchers found that visits to a hospital ER or clinic dropped by 58 percent and 42 percent, respectively, as parents opted to treat their children's fevers, colds and earaches at home. This added up to a potential annual savings to Medicaid of $554 per family in direct costs associated with such visits, or about $5.1 million annually, according to the UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute for Head Start, which conducted the study.

Moreover, parents' being better informed about handling their children's health needs translated to a 42 percent drop in the average number of days lost at work (from 6.7 to 3.8) and 29 percent drop in days children lost at school (from 13.3 to 9.5). Parents also reported feeling more confident in making health care decisions and in sharing knowledge with others in their families and communities.

Underwritten by Johnson & Johnson, the program carried a one-time cost of $60 per family on average, including pre-visits, hands-on training sessions and post-training follow up. Using $320 as the average cost for a visit to a hospital's emergency room and $80 for a clinic visit, researchers at UCLA Anderson School of Management, which houses the Institute, estimated that savings could reach many millions per year if training were provided for the nearly one million families served by Head Start, many of whom depend on Medicaid. The Institute's 10-year goal is to serve 400,000 Head Start families, reaching approximately half the Head Start agencies in the United States.

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"Head Start parents want to be the first line of defense in their children's health care, and our research leaves no doubt that they can be, once they have the tools to make the best choices," said Ariella Herman, Ph.D., Research Director of the Health Care Institute at UCLA Anderson School of Management and author of the study, which builds on the findings of the Institute's groundbreaking pilot study that was published in 2004.

What to Do at 99.5 Degrees F

Parents were surveyed about their family's health care habits three months prior to the training and six months afterward.

At the outset, 60 percent said that they did not have a health book at home to reference when a child fell ill. As part of the study, each Head Start family was given a low-literacy medical guide, What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick, by Gloria Mayer, R.N., and Ann Kuklierus, R.N., which offers clear information on more than 50 common childhood illnesses. The Health Care Institute training is adapted to various languages and cultural needs of the participating families.

Prior to the training, parents said they were "very confident" about caring for their sick children -- yet, in reality 69 percent reported taking a child to a doctor or clinic at the first sign of illness. Almost 45 percent said they would take their child to a clinic or emergency room for a cough rather than provide care at home, with 43 percent doing so for a mild temperature of 99.5 degrees F.

Post training, researchers found a marked improvement in parents' self confidence, with only 32 percent indicating that they would still go first to a doctor or clinic. More significantly, the number of parents using the medical guide as a first source of help jumped from five percent to 48 percent, indicating a better understanding and higher comfort level in dealing with common childhood illnesses.

"The Health Care Institute has provided a creative and practical solution for parents, giving them access to essential information and the confidence to address their children's basic health care needs," said Sharon D'Agostino, Vice President, Corporate Contributions and Community Relations for Johnson & Johnson. "The program has also helped these parents set a powerful example for others in the community, and is playing a role in raising the quality of health care in the communities where it has been implemented."

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