Making Progress on Children’s Health Coverage; More Work To Do
By Mike Odeh
In one of his first acts in office three years ago this week, President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2009. Because of CHIPRA, millions of low-income children were able to keep their affordable coverage and an additional 1.2 million children nationwide were newly able to enroll in health coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Together CHIP and Medicaid have significantly reduced the number of uninsured children and moved us closer to the goal of providing health coverage for every child.
In California, CHIP is known as the Healthy Families Program and provides health coverage for more than 870,000 children. Healthy Families has meant that the Reick boys of Fresno can get the care they need to manage their asthma, and that the Skinner kids of Riverside can stay active in their extra-curricular sports programs. Healthy Families has provided a variety of needed care for the Magana children of Los Angeles, from immunizations and check-ups to the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening thyroid cancer.
This success of CHIP nationally was in part boosted by federal CHIPRA incentive bonus payments for states that simplified the application process for children’s coverage and made significant progress in increasing the number of insured children. In December 2011, the federal government awarded nearly $300 million in CHIPRA performance bonuses to 23 states.
Unfortunately, for the third year in a row, California failed to qualify for a bonus, losing out on millions of dollars of federal funds that are desperately needed. While California has made efforts to streamline enrollment for children, and launched a new online enrollment tool for Healthy Families (available in English and Spanish at www.healtheapp.net), the state has not made significant enough strides at enrolling uninsured children into health coverage.
The state’s inadequate enrollment gains are made more stark by the fact that two out of every three uninsured children in California, close to 700,000 kids, are currently eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families but not enrolled.
In 2012, California must do better at connecting uninsured children with the quality, comprehensive, affordable health coverage they need to grow healthy and learn well. To that end, the 100% Campaign (a collaborative effort of The Children’s Partnership, Children Now, and Children’s Defense Fund-California) have developed a Healthy Child Checklist to remind parents of some easy ways to ensure their child stays healthy this year, including applying for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families coverage, which families can do at any time of the year, and with www.healtheapp.net, at any hour.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which President Obama signed in March 2010, further strengthens coverage for children by no longer allowing private insurers to deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. Further, the ACA has already benefited children by requiring coverage of preventive services without co-payments, eliminating lifetime or annual limits, and prohibiting insurers from rescinding coverage.
Looking back on how much has changed for children’s coverage in the past three years, there is much to celebrate. More children have health insurance today than at any point in American history. The opportunity to improve children’s health will continue to grow as California moves forward with implementation of important provisions of CHIPRA and the ACA.
To make these opportunities most meaningful and successful for children in California, we need to focus now on enrolling eligible children and creating a “culture of coverage.” If we work together, we can ensure that more California children have the health coverage they need to grow up healthy.
California parents can learn more about children’s health coverage by calling
Mike Odeh works with Children Now, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization working to raise children's well-being to the top of the national policy agenda.