CHILDREN’S INSURANCE: PA, NJ Work to Enroll Kids
Public health officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are learning that "it is tough to sign up children for health insurance -- even when it is free," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. New Jersey's Kidcare program and Pennsylvania's CHIP program are meant to cover uninsured children in low-income families, but according to social worker Bill Costello of Bucks County, "[i]t is like pulling teeth sometimes" to enroll those who are eligible. Costello works from the county's YWCA, where he has signed up almost 200 children within the last six months. Because many people find the enrollment process so confusing, Costello must be "willing to be patient and walk them through it," he said, adding that he must push through language barriers, dispense of "bureaucratic snarls" and follow up with parents who have procrastinated applying. New Jersey officials found a similar situation with its KidCare program, prompting the state to turn to community groups and agencies to help enroll uninsured children. NJ KidCare Director Michelle Walsky said, "We thought if we built an insurance program, they will come. It didn't happen that way. ... We needed to do a lot of public awareness." New Jersey's outreach network now includes school nurses, a local travel, immigration and income tax agency and even McDonald's, where information is distributed at drive-through windows. Outreach workers must "combat many families' harsh memories of previous government encounters, assure others that their children are eligible and constantly explain how the program works." Walsky said officials have "changed their thinking" and are more like marketers, who try to "drill down into the community and actually work with agencies many of these families know and trust." About 67,000 New Jersey children are covered currently through KidCare, but an estimated 187,000 uninsured children who are eligible for NJ KidCare or Medicaid remain unenrolled. Pennsylvania covers 95,000 children, while 196,000 CHIP- or Medicaid-eligible children remain uninsured (Uhlman, 5/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.