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J Asthma. 2010 Dec;47(10):1136-41. doi: 10.3109/02770903.2010.517338. Epub 2010 Nov 1.

Disparities in asthma medication dispensing patterns: the case of pediatric asthma in Puerto Rico.

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University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus, Behavioral Sciences Research Institute, Puerto Rico.



Disparities exist in asthma medication dispensing between children with public insurance and those with private insurance under a Managed Care Medicaid system in Puerto Rico.


Island-wide medical claims data were used to examine the extent to which differences between the private and public health care sectors affect medication dispensing and health care utilization among asthmatic children.


Children 3-18 years old with at least one service claim [outpatient, hospitalization, or emergency department (ED) visit] for asthma or reactive airway disease from 2005 to 2006 were selected. Chi-square analyses compared medication dispensing and health care utilization between the public and private sectors. Negative binomial regression identified factors associated with the mean dispensing rate of prescriptions for anti-inflammatory controller medication (CM).


Private insurance families (n = 28,088) were dispensed significantly more CM (48.3% vs. 12.0%) and quick relief medication (47.4% vs. 44.6%) than public insurance families (n = 13,220). The dispensing of inhaled corticosteroids (24.4% vs. 6.7%) and leukotriene modifiers and cromolyn (31.4% vs. 5.7%) was dramatically higher in the private sector. In contrast, emergency room use was significantly higher among public insurance children (51.7% vs. 13.8%). Multivariate analysis showed that age, number of β-agonists, and type of insurance was associated with CM dispensing; private insurance showed the greatest effect.


Asthmatic Puerto Rican children enrolled in public insurance were significantly less likely to be dispensed CM than children with private insurance; suggesting that under-treatment of public insured children may substantially contribute to increased asthma morbidity in this population as evidenced by significantly higher rates of ED visits.


A disparity exists in asthma medication dispensing between children with public insurance compared with those with private insurance under a Managed Care Medicaid system in Puerto Rico. If asthma disparities in medication dispensing are to be reduced, then a better understanding of the complex ways in which multiple variables related to the health care system policies, socioeconomic factors, family and provider interactions, as well as the relative weight that each one contributes to the observed inequalities is needed.

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