HEALTHY FAMILIES: Critics Question Accessibility Of Plan
Today's Wall Street Journal/California Edition reports that "a growing number of consumer, minority and children's advocates, along with health-policy experts, have in recent weeks begun questioning whether" the Healthy Families program will be able to reach the 580,000 children without insurance in the state. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research Director E. Richard Brown said, "'California is very unlikely to reach its actual potential' of enrollees. ... 'There are a lot of barriers that stand in the way.'" Among the barriers being questioned, Journal reports, are a complicated enrollment process and monthly premiums and copayments. But "[s]tate health officials defend their efforts," and "agree with many critics who say they can't recall a more open, more collaborative process of crafting such a massive state program."
Sign Me Up
Critics charge that the 30-page application packet families must complete "is so daunting in size and complexity that it's liable to turn away needy families from the outset." Healthy Families applicants will be required "to fill out nine pages of forms and Medi-Cal applicants 14 pages." Consumers Union's Elizabeth Imholz said, "Nobody will ever get past that first page. This looks like an IRS tax-return package -- and not the simplified form, either -- for the working poor." Other critics "argue that the application asks too many detailed questions about children's citizenship and will scare off immigrant parents -- both legal and undocumented -- from applying to the program." California Primary Care Association's Carmela Castellano said, "We are very concerned that many eligible legal immigrants will not want to apply when they see the number of immigration-related questions." However, Doug Porter, the Department of Health Services' deputy director for medical-care services, said, "[W]e've made this as easy as possible. We're even paying folks out there to provide (application) assistance. I don't think this will be anything more daunting than filling out a credit application, a rent application or your income-tax form."
Time To Pay Up
Still other critics "say state officials' insistence on charging monthly premiums ... could also hamper enrollment." CaliforniaKids Healthcare Foundation's Michael Koch said, "Pre-paying premiums, where your child may not need the service -- that's going to be real hard for these families. The notion of premiums and having copayments -- I think you're talking about barriers to entry." But state officials contend that premiums give enrollees a "sense of ownership" in the program.
The Wall Street Journal/California Edition notes that the state will soon launch a $300,000 "'pre-enrollment campaign' designed specifically to assess demand for insurance coverage." The funds "will be spent on printing and mailing an informational brochure in 10 languages to community-service groups, health clinics, schools, targeted households, union workers and others, with the goal of collecting names and addresses of people who might be interested in applying." Enrollment applications will then be sent out in June, "with the program staring up July 1" (Benson, 2/25).