Back-to-School Campaigns Promote Children's Health Coverage

Article excerpt

Cities across America can join "Covering Kids" in a national effort to help low- and moderate-income families enroll their children in free and low-cost health insurance during the month of August.

Covering Kids -- a national program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- will launch the second annual Back-to-School outreach campaign on August 8. This will be followed by local events in every state aimed at raising awareness of, and enrollment in, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid.

Why is Health Insurance Outreach Important?

Approximately 10 million children under age 19 lack health insurance coverage, despite the fact that SCHIP and Medicaid are available from the federal and state government to provide insurance for most of these children. The problem of uninsured children affects everyone:

* Uninsured children suffer preventable illnesses and are less likely to succeed in school due to undetected health problems and more sick days;

* Parents of uninsured children struggle to pay steep medical bills and lose work to care for sick children;

* Employers face increased absenteeism and loss of productivity among parents whose children are frequently sick; and

* Communities experience a more rapid spread of disease, high levels of unreimbursed emergency health services, and a loss of economic productivity among both parents and, down the road, among their children.

According to a report by the Urban Institute, many uninsured children are not enrolled in health insurance programs for which they are eligible "because their parents lack critical information -- they do not know the programs exist, do not know enough about the programs, or do not think their children are eligible for coverage."

How Can Municipal Leaders Make a Difference?

Municipal leaders can help bridge this information gap by raising awareness about and facilitating enrollment in SCHIP and Medicaid.

* Use the "bully pulpit" to help get the word out about free and low-cost health insurance and how to enroll.

* Provide information about available health insurance programs to municipal workers.

* Ask business leaders, nonprofits, hospitals and health care clinics, schools, community health workers and public agencies to support outreach efforts by disseminating information about Medicaid and SCHIP and hosting enrollment events.

* Encourage community-based programs, such as Head Start or school meal programs, to check income eligibility and identify families that may qualify for SCHIP and Medicaid. …