Health Net Lone Bidder for Kern County’s Healthy Kids Program
County officials have said that Woodland Hills-based Health Net was the only health insurer to bid on a contract to administer Kern County's Healthy Kids program, a "controversial" initiative to provide health insurance to some county residents under age six, the Bakersfield Californian reports. Children whose families' annual incomes are between 250% and 300% of the federal poverty level would be eligible for the program, regardless of immigration status. Beneficiaries would pay $6 to $9 for medical, mental health and dental services through the program, and First 5 Kern -- the local agency overseeing the program -- would provide the $80 to $100 monthly premium for each child. First 5 Kern is responsible for distributing approximately $11 million annually that Kern County receives under Proposition 10, which provides revenue from a state cigarette tax to fund health and social programs. First 5 Kern Executive Director Steve Ladd said he expects about half of the children eligible for the program will be from undocumented families. He said that program staff would help families with eligible children sign up for existing public health insurance programs, such as Medi-Cal or Healthy Families. He added that those who were ineligible for the program would be enrolled in Healthy Kids.
Some local health care providers have "questioned the need for another insurance program" because programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families are underutilized, the Californian reports. Carol Sorrell, CEO of Kern Health Systems, said in a letter to First 5 Kern that the children who Healthy Kids targets might be eligible for existing preventive and referral programs through the Child Health and Disability Prevention Program and for catastrophic coverage through California Children's Services and Medi-Cal. Ladd said he disagrees with Sorrell's assessment that there are programs already available for children who will qualify for Healthy Kids. Steve Schilling, CEO of Clinica Sierra Vista, said that he is pleased Health Net "has stepped up to the plate" but is concerned that the program will fail. According to the Californian, Schilling said that many of the children who are eligible for the program will be from undocumented families who are reluctant to disclose personal information.
A committee is expected to review Health Net's proposal this week and make a recommendation to the First 5 Kern Board. The board is scheduled to vote July 7 on the recommendation and Ladd said if it is approved, First 5 Kern staff will negotiate the contract with Health Net. Ladd said that the program could be implemented by November. He estimated program costs at $1.3 million in fiscal year 2004-2005 and $2 million annually for the following four years (Bedell, Bakersfield Californian, 6/26).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.