THE UNINSURED: Confusion Leads to Coverage Gaps
Today's Los Angeles Times reports that California's high number of uninsured residents, particularly children, is largely the fault of a "crazy quilt of public programs" that many potential recipients find difficult to navigate. According to a 1998 report by the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research, 1.1 million of the state's 1.85 million uninsured children are eligible for "one of the big three programs" -- Medi-Cal, Healthy Families or Access for Infants and Mother -- but "[p]eople experience enormous frustration in trying to figure out the system." Medi-Cal has more than 100 categories of eligibility, and Healthy Families has enrollment problems stemming from a long and complex application. The state has pushed to "streamline operations," narrowing the Healthy Families application to four pages, setting up toll-free telephone numbers for enrollment and eligibility information and working with the Immigration and Naturalization Service "to guarantee that receiving medical benefits will not affect naturalization, visa renewal or re-entry into the U.S." Barry Bomin, manager of Orange County's Medi-Cal program, advises residents to "come in and apply, because we have so many categories and we are instructed to make the programs available whenever possible." For more information on Medi-Cal, call (888)747-1222, for Healthy Families, (800) 880-5305, and for AIM, (800)433-2611 (Warren, 3/29).
More Bad News for Healthy Families
The San Francisco Examiner reports that a huge racial disparity exists in the city's Healthy Families enrollment. Almost 3,400 children, or 90% of the total San Francisco enrollees, are Asian, compared to only 25 black children who are enrolled. Mayor Willie Brown (D) said, "I'm alarmed. I'm a big advocate of tapping every federal and state program to take the heat off San Francisco's General Fund, whenever possible." He continued, "If they can be successful in the Asian community, why can't they do it in the others?" The Examiner notes that despite Healthy Families' slow start, enrollment is now growing statewide by about 10,000 per month (Gordon, 3/28).