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.

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