Understanding how low-income families prioritize elements of health care access for their children via the optimal care model

Heather Angier, Jessica Gregg, Rachel Gold, Courtney Crawford, Melinda Davis, Jennifer E. DeVoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Insurance coverage alone does not guarantee access to needed health care. Few studies have explored what "access" means to low-income families, nor have they examined how elements of access are prioritized when availability, affordability, and acceptability are not all achievable. Therefore, we explored low-income parents' perspectives on accessing health care. Methods: In-depth interviews with a purposeful sample of 29 Oregon parents who responded to a previously administered statewide survey about health insurance. Transcribed interviews were analyzed by a multidisciplinary team using a standard iterative process. Results: Parents highlighted affordability and limited availability as barriers to care; a continuous relationship with a health care provider helped them overcome these barriers. Parents also described the difficult decisions they made between affordability and acceptability in order to get the best care they could for their children. We present a new conceptual model to explain these experiences accessing care with health insurance: the Optimal Care Model. The model shows a transition from optimal care to a breaking point where affordability becomes the driving factor, but the care is perceived as unacceptable because it is with an unknown provider. Conclusions: Even when covered by health insurance, low-income parents face barriers to accessing health care for their children. As the Affordable Care Act and other policies increase coverage options across the United States, many Americans may experience similar barriers and facilitators to health care access. The Optimal Care Model provides a useful construct for better understanding experiences that may be encountered when the newly insured attempt to access available, acceptable, and affordable health care services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number585
JournalBMC health services research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Access to care
  • Children's health
  • Health insurance
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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