HEALTHY FAMILIES: State To Simplify Application
Pressured by advocates for children and the poor who say a complex application is hindering enrollment in the state's new Healthy Families program, the state has agreed to revise the 30-page booklet. The Wall Street Journal/California Edition reports that the agencies charged with administering Healthy Families have scheduled a meeting in Sacramento next week "to discuss ways to make it less onerous." The state has invited "many of the county health personnel and immigrant and children's advocates," who over the past few months have roundly criticized the amount of paperwork needed to enroll in the program, citing it as the main reason that more of the state's 400,000 eligible children have not signed up. Since the program's July 1 inception date, only 20,000 kids have enrolled, many fewer than the 123,000 expected to be receiving the benefit by late September.
Not "Applying" Themselves
Sandra Shewry, executive director of the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which administers the program, defended the application on principle, saying, "People really appreciated the layout and the explanations, and [said] that it was colorful and inviting." She conceded, however, that her agency "really missed the mark in not having a simple, couple-of-pages form." As it stands, the application booklet includes 12 pages of forms and requires complicated mathematical calculations. Elizabeth Imholz, senior attorney for Consumers Union, said, "It does look like the (IRS) long form. It's scary. It really is."
Shewry and state Health Director Kim Belshe said the program's "soft enrollment figures" cannot be blamed solely on the application. They argue that legal immigrants are reluctant to participate in the program for fear their citizenship status will be negatively impacted should they incur "public charges" because of their participation. Rosemary Moreno of the El Concilio Immigration Project, said, "We discourage people from receiving any kind of public benefits while they are in the process of immigrating or immigrating their family members." In June, Medi-Cal Director Doug Porter wrote to the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the request of Belshe "to seek a written clarification that enrollment in Healthy Families wouldn't be a black mark against anyone's residency or citizenship efforts." So far, the INS has not responded but is expected to do so shortly. Belshe said, "We are extremely frustrated with the INS's ability to provide California with clear direction on this important issue." Regardless of the reasons for the low enrollment, however, Shewry said, "We have lost the (application) war. We're going to try to put together a leaner and meaner application that is shorter and easier to follow" (Benson, 9/30). Click Healthy Families for past CHL coverage of the program's enrollment problems.