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.
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.