Switching to gatekeeping: changes in expenditures and utilization for children.

Vol. 108, No. 2
August 2001
Ferris, T.G., Perrin, J.M., Manganello, J.A., Chang, Y., Causino, N., and Blumenthal, D.

BACKGROUND: Gatekeeping has been a central strategy in the cost-containment initiatives of managed care organizations. Little empirical research describes the impact of switching into a gatekeeping plan on health care expenditures and utilization for children.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the likelihood of a parent with a chronically ill child enrolling in a health plan with gatekeeping, as well as the effects of gatekeeping on health care expenditures and utilization for children, especially those with chronic conditions.

DESIGN: We followed a cohort of 1839 children who either voluntarily switched to a gatekeeping plan or remained in an indemnity plan from 1991 through 1994. Study participants were children of employees of a large hospital. The gatekeeping plan was virtually identical to the previous indemnity plan except for lower monthly employee contribution and the requirement for a primary care physician to preapprove subspecialty referrals. We determined the likelihood of a household containing a child with a chronic condition enrolling in the gatekeeping plan, as well as mean annual total, subspecialty, and primary care expenditures and utilization for all children and children with chronic conditions.

RESULTS: Households switching to gatekeeping were less likely to have children with chronic illness (8% vs 15%). Total and subspecialty expenditures for all children decreased more in the gatekeeping group (53% and 59%, respectively) than in the indemnity group (11% and 6%, respectively). For children with chronic conditions, mean visits to subspecialists decreased 57% in the gatekeeping group but increased 31% in the indemnity group. Mean visits to primary care physicians decreased 23% in the gatekeeping group compared with 13% in indemnity group.

CONCLUSION: Parents of children with a chronic condition were much less likely than other parents to switch to a gatekeeping plan. Switching to gatekeeping was associated with reduced visits to specialists but did not increase the involvement of primary care physicians in the management of children with chronic conditions. The implications of these findings for the health of children are unknown.

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