Month: April 2015

Lesson from the Schools

The “Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools” promotional campaign by Consumers Union, is helping boost enrollment of uninsured schoolchildren in California. Participation in the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program and state Medi-Cal has helped buffer the poor from the loss of insurance since welfare reform.
Last year, we told you about “Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools,” unique pilot projects that Consumers Union helped spearhead in several schools in the San Francisco area. The goal: to get more children signed up for government health-insurance programs.


These projects and others have been so promising that Consumers Union now recommends school-based outreach as an ideal way to boost enrollment in government health-insurance programs, as described in our new report, “A Golden Opportunity: Improving Children’s Health Through California’s Schools.” While the study highlights our efforts in California, the findings apply nationally.

The pilot projects, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, were launched as federal and state officials began expanding government health-insurance programs for the children of low-income families, mainly through the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). A continuing problem, however, has been the lack of enrollment in CHIP and Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program. Of the more than 2 million uninsured children in California, for example, roughly 1.5 million eligible kids have remained uninsured–a higher number and percentage than in any other state in the nation. Barriers include everything from confusing paperwork to the unfounded fear that participation will jeopardize parents’ immigration status.

To increase enrollment in the insurance programs, some schools designated “application assistance days,” during which school staff helped parents sign up their kids, targeted possible candidates through the school lunch program, and used parent and student volunteers to talk to potentially eligible parents and students. Individual schools have reported hundreds of new enrollees because of such efforts, although it is impossible to determine their full impact because the state does not track enrollment gains to specific outreach efforts.

The report recommends that:

* Eligibility should be aligned with other public-assistance programs such as Head Start and the school lunch and food stamps programs, so families don’t have to provide duplicate paperwork and waste time getting enrolled.

* Officials should allow for experimentation through various pilot projects: Depending on the school, some outreach efforts may work better than others.

* States should assess the impact of outreach projects on health-insurance enrollment to determine which forms of outreach are most effective.

* School-based efforts should be institutionalized to build long-lasting, self-sustaining enrollment. School districts, however, would need funding to support these efforts.

* More research is needed to explore the ties between health insurance and school performance.

Consumers Union’s report and other related information are available online at and at a special “Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools” web site,

A disturbing footnote: Despite effective school-based outreach, the report notes that there were more uninsured California children last year than before government insurance programs expanded. That’s because so many children lost their Medi-Cal coverage in the wake of welfare reform several years earlier.

Healthy kids, healthy schools

Consumers Union is working with several Bay Area, CA, schools to enroll eligible children in the expanding, but little-used, federal Children’s Health Insurance Program. Half of the 1.85 million US uninsured children are not enrolled for health care programs that they qualify for.

Unique experiments are occurring at the 49ers Academy Middle School and at Richmond High School in the San Francisco area–and they have nothing to do with biology or chemistry lab.


Both public schools are working with Consumers Union on a challenge:

How to get the word out to students’ families about government health-insurance programs for which their children may now qualify.

Throughout the country, states have been creating or expanding health-insurance programs for children, thanks to the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, which allocates $24 billion over five years for such efforts. Up to now, many of the nation’s 11 million uninsured children and teens have fallen through the cracks because their parents made too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but too little to afford other coverage.

Getting parents to sign up their kids is a bigger problem than it may seem. In California, for example, more than half of an estimated 1.85 million uninsured children are actually eligible for state and federal health programs, according to a report released in January by the University of California. But the programs continue to be underenrolled, in part because the application process can be confusing and parents don’t know their children qualify.

Consumers Union’s “Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools” project targets schools because that’s the best way to reach most eligible children and their siblings. And a mechanism already exists for registering kids in free and reduced-price lunch programs, though eligibility rules differ.

“It makes so much sense that schools are part of the answer,” says Betsy Imholz, director of Consumers Union’s West Coast office. “When children are sick because they don’t get preventive health care, or when they have to wait all day at a public clinic, they fall behind.” Increasingly, schools are graded on student performance, and state-funding formulas are tied to attendance figures.

At Richmond High, Consumers Union will help students themselves develop a campaign to promote government health programs. At the 49ers Academy, all school families will be contacted and offered help to enroll. For schools statewide, Consumers Union helped develop an application request form for the health programs that will be mailed to families with information about school lunch programs. These efforts were financed through grants totaling $150,000 from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.