7M Kids Eligible for Health Program

Wednesday, August 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

7M Kids Eligible for Health Program

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly two-thirds of the nation's 11 million uninsured children are eligible for free or low-cost health insurance through the government, but their parents mistakenly believe they don't qualify, according to a study released Wednesday.

The survey found that about three of five parents whose children qualify for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid believe they're not eligible for these programs, leaving 7 million children unnecessarily uninsured.

About four of five parents of eligible children said they would enroll their children if they knew they could, said Sarah Shuptrine, head of the Covering Kids program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic group devoted to health issues.

``Many families really believe that they have to have very low incomes or have to be on welfare in order for children to be eligible,'' Shuptrine said. ``It's critically important that we try to reach these families and let them know about these opportunities.''

The government created the children's program in 1997 to help kids whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance. About 2 million children were enrolled in the program in 1999.

Samantha Stovall, 23, a portrait photographer from Boise, Idaho, signed up her 2-year-old son, Tyler, for CHIP coverage only three days before he suffered a serious asthma attack requiring medical attention.

``With everything we've gone through with his health, it's really helpful to have something that helps to pay,'' Stovall said.

Stovall and her husband didn't have private insurance for their son and earned too much to continue receiving Medicaid. She didn't know she could be eligible until she heard some radio commercials about her state program and a friend encouraged her to go.
Eligibility for the program varies among states, with most setting the income level for a family of four around $30,000.

The survey found households with two working parents or with income above $25,000 were most likely to mistakenly believe their children wouldn't qualify for aid.

Social stigma often is considered a deterrent to getting families to sign up for government assistance, but that doesn't seem to be a problem with the health program, the survey found. Three out of four parents of children eligible for CHIP believe that government health programs are ``a good thing to help people take care of their families,'' the survey said.

Outreach efforts are underway in more than 20 states to encourage families to enroll in the program.

In Ohio, schools will include brochures about the program in back-to-school packets. In Salt Lake City, local groups plan events promoting the program in 20 elementary schools and all the city's secondary schools. In Atlanta, children will be enrolled during a back-to-school immunization drive.

``The introduction of health care for working families is a relatively new concept,'' said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, who attended a ceremony at a District of Columbia elementary school to launch a national campaign to educate parents about the health plans.

``States have been working hard to streamline application and re-enrollment processes to make them more family friendly,'' she said.

Shalala said money is available to cover 5 million kids under current programs and more funding would be available if needed. She advised parents who want to know if their children are eligible to call toll-free 1-877-543-7669 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. EDT Monday through Friday.

The national telephone survey of 1,066 eligible but uninsured parents was conducted between June 8 and July 6 by Wirthlin Worldwide and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.