Most Homeless Youth Lack Health Insurance

TUESDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Compared to young people with stable housing, youth who've been homeless for any length of time after leaving foster care have much more difficulty accessing health care, a U.S. study finds.

"We found high rates of poor access to health care among all emancipated youth, with an experience of homelessness being associated with significantly higher odds of being uninsured and of having unmet need for health care," wrote Dr. Margot B. Kushel, of the University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco Hospital, and colleagues.

In 2002-03, researchers interviewed 749 foster youth (aged 17 or 18) in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. A year later, 643 of the youth completed a follow-up interview.

By that time, about 54 percent of the participants had left the foster-care system. Of those, 14.2 percent had experienced homelessness and 39.4 percent had unstable housing situations, meaning they had moved three or more times or that they spent more than 50 percent of their income on rent.

"While approximately 30 percent of young adults in the general population report an episode of being uninsured over the course of the past year, we found that more than half of emancipated participants were uninsured, with rates ranging from 46.5 percent of the stably housed to 76.6 percent of the participants with an experience of homelessness," the researchers wrote.

"More than one fifth (22 percent) of emancipated participants reported unmet need for medical care (14.5 percent of stably housed youth, up to 40.8 percent of those with homelessness) compared with approximately 12 percent of youths in the general population," the research team noted.

"Recently emancipated foster youth are at high risk for poor housing and poor health-care access, which are associated with one another. Strategies to improve health outcomes among emancipated youth should address both their lack of health insurance and their risk of housing instability and homelessness," the researchers concluded.

The study appears in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

More information

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council has more about homelessness and health care.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Oct. 1, 2007