HEALTHY FAMILIES: L.A. County, Latino Enrollment Lagging
Children from Los Angeles County and Latino children statewide are underrepresented in Healthy Families and Medi-Cal, according to a study from UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research. Although Latino children comprise 60% of those children eligible for the programs, they made up only 36% of children enrolled during the period between July 1 and Oct. 3, according to the researchers. Furthermore, children living in Los Angeles County accounted for only 26% of those enrolled, although 40% of children eligible statewide reside in the county. "Already we are seeing a number of troubling trends develop," said E. Richard Brown, lead author of the report. "State health officials should take steps to ease enrollment barriers or many families may stay away from the program."
Earlier this year, UCLA researchers estimated that 400,000 uninsured California children qualified for coverage under Healthy Families and another 668,000 would be eligible for Medi-Cal. The researchers attribute the "disproportionately low number of Latino children" enrolled in Healthy Families to the lengthy application form and noncitizens' fears that their children's enrollment would alert the Immigration and Naturalization Service, possibly jeopardizing their immigration status or naturalization efforts. "Both the state government and federal immigration officials have contributed to parents' fears about enrolling their eligible children in these programs," said Brown. The researchers note that the new Healthy Families/Medi-Cal application extends for 28 pages, and suggest that the program adopt the more streamlined one- or two- page application employed by other states. The report included several proposals to expand the programs' coverage to the 410,000 uninsured children who do not currently qualify for either Healthy Families or Medi-Cal. Revising Healthy Families policy to allow families to deduct work-related expenses when calculating their incomes -- a deduction allowed by Medi-Cal -- would qualify an additional 50,000 children for the program. In addition, the researchers estimate that raising the family income ceiling from 200% to 250% of the federal poverty level would qualify an additional 145,000 children for health insurance under Healthy Families (UCLA release, 10/15). Brown found that 75% of "uninsured children eligible for Healthy Families have at least one parent who is a full time, full-year employee" and suggested boosting outreach efforts in the workplace. The report concludes, "Medi-Cal and the Healthy Families program have the potential to cover more than one million of California's 1.74 million uninsured children. Reaching this goal, however, will require the state to alleviate barriers to enrollment that eligible children now face" (Brown et al., UCLA Policy Brief, Oct. 1998 issue). The study will be available in PDF version on the center's website (www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu) around 12 p.m. PST today. Click here to read recent CHL coverage of Healthy Families outreach efforts.