HEALTHY FAMILIES: New Children’s Health Insurance Program Starts Today
Starting today, more than one million California children will be eligible for health care coverage under the state's Healthy Families program. Sandra Smoley, secretary of the state's Health and Welfare Agency, was joined yesterday by other state officials to unveil the program at the Boys and Girls Club in Hollywood. "We can now ensure that California's kids from families with limited income will receive quality, affordable and accessible health care services, regardless of family income and employment status," Smoley said (Health and Welfare Agency release, 6/30). While the Los Angeles Times calls the $500 million Healthy Families program "the government's most significant investment in children's health in three decades," it goes on to report that the program "is marred by some start-up woes and what critics consider structural flaws that may deter many needy people from participating." Smoley "acknowledged" some of the criticisms -- particularly complaints about the unwieldy and complex 28-page application -- saying, "We will tinker with this. It is our intent to have it be a simple process." Still, others complain the program, which "was purposely designed not to mimic welfare," is replete with government bureaucracy (see related story).
How Much And How Many?
Children in families earning between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level ($13,650 to $27,300 for a family of three) are eligible for the new coverage. Participants will be charged monthly premiums ranging from $7 to $27, as well as "limited copayments" when services are accessed (Marquis/Ellis, 7/1). While state officials estimate that about half a million children will qualify for coverage under Healthy Families, "researchers at UCLA said the latest analysis shows the number closer to 400,000," the Bakersfield Californian reports (Garcia, 6/30). Despite the availability of the new program, many children will be left without coverage. The UCLA study concluded that "more than 409,000 children whose family earnings are two to three times the poverty level are out of the program's reach" (Los Angeles Times, 7/1).
Up And Running
The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports that "nine health plans, three dental and one vision plan will serve eligible families" in Los Angeles County alone (Prendez, 7/1). In Kern County, an estimated 14,000 children will be eligible to receive care from Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente and Kern Family Health Care, according to a state official (Bakersfield Californian, 7/1).
Gettin' The Word Out
The Los Angeles Times reports that the state's $21 million campaign to advertise Healthy Families will "also seek to enroll more than half a million other children for Medi-Cal benefits" (7/1). The campaign, which includes billboard ads, TV ads and transit ads, will begin July 6. The Healthy Families toll-free line -- (888) 747-1222 -- will feature live operator assistance in ten languages. "Getting the word out to Californians, especially those in geographically remote and non-English speaking communities, is essential to ensuring that as many children as possible begin receiving program benefits right away," state Health Director Kim Belshe said. The state is also partnering with corporations and businesses to tout the program, with participating businesses spreading the word through product packaging, displays, direct mail and billing inserts, newsletters, special events and PSAs (Health and Welfare Agency release, 6/30). View the Healthy Families Web site at http://HealthyFamilies.ca.gov/. Or for past California Healthline coverage of the Healthy Families program, click here.