Trying To Reach Last Few Children Eligible for Coverage but Not Insured

Many of the remaining uninsured children in California have parents who are employed by small businesses throughout the state. Most of those employed parents are unaware their children likely are eligible for Medi-Cal coverage, according to advocates. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program.

“About 32% of uninsured children in California have a parent in small business,” said Jenny Kattlove, senior director of programs at The Children’s Partnership, a children’s advocacy group based in Santa Monica. That’s almost 140,000 of the estimated 427,000 children in California who remain uninsured.

Children’s Partnership has launched a new effort to alert parents in small businesses about their children’s eligibility for Medi-Cal. The group hopes to dramatically lower the number of uninsured children in the state.

Reaching Undocumented Kids

On May 1, the state is expected to begin implementation of SB 75 and SB 4 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), making an estimated 170,000 undocumented children eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal benefits.

An estimated 114,981 of those children already get emergency care with restricted-scope benefits, according to the Department of Health Care Services. The remaining 55,019 undocumented children get no benefits, according to the department.

Reaching all of those undocumented children will be a challenge, but a good start will be through small businesses, Kattlove said.

“We’ve worked with the small business community over the years,” she said. “A lot of small business employers don’t provide coverage, either to their employees or to their dependents. The majority of people get coverage through the workplace, so it’s a great avenue to communicate with people about the options they have.”

Advocates have worked with a number of organizations — Small Business California, Small Business Majority, Health Law Guide for Business, The California Endowment and Covered California — to educate parents and employers about their choices, which often include Medi-Cal eligibility or federally subsidized coverage through Covered California.

“This is a great opportunity to establish a connection to families with uninsured kids,” Kattlove said.

Progress in Kids’ Coverage

Now that undocumented children will be covered, the task for children’s health advocates has shifted from establishing eligibility to establishing coverage.

“We are really close to the finish line,” Kattlove said. “We’re really making headway. Now it’s all about reducing the number of children who are uninsured. Since there’s a program now for every low-income child in California, we have to go through all avenues to find those kids.”

The Partnership created one educational flyer to put into employees’ paycheck envelopes and another to help employers understand kids’ eligibility. Small business organizations are helping to distribute those materials.

“Our work is to identify those kids and get them enrolled,” Kattlove said. “Small businesses have a role in connecting employees [with services]. Many of them may not know that Medi-Cal is out there or SB 4 is out there and that they’re eligible for coverage.”

Employers need to know how important it can be to have children of employees covered, even if it’s purely self-interest, Kattlove said. When children have health insurance, she said, their parents are less stressed, miss fewer days of work and are more productive.

“We have reached the low-hanging fruit, and now we need to connect with the harder-to-reach families,” Kattlove said. “That’s the challenge. But we’re right there.”

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