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School-based outreach ideal for enrolling uninsured children, new report finds

April 11, 2000
Michael McCauley

Report Offers Recommendations for Improving Outreach to 1.48 Million Children Who Are Eligible for State-Sponsored Insurance, But Not Enrolled

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – School-based outreach efforts have shown great potential for enrolling uninsured children in state-sponsored health insurance programs, according to a new report by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The report, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, was based on surveys of school nurses and other school staff and a review of outreach efforts underway across the state.
California is home to more than two million uninsured children and tops the nation in both its rate and number of uninsured children. Roughly 1.48 million of these uninsured children are eligible for low-cost or free insurance under either the Healthy Families Program or Medi-Cal. Children without health coverage often lack access to healthcare services and suffer from easily preventable health problems.
“Far too many children who are eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families are not enrolled in these programs,” said Mary Ann Cryan, Staff Attorney and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office in San Francisco. “Engaging schools in health insurance outreach is a critical step toward extending health coverage to all of California’s children.”
In A Golden Opportunity: Improving Children’s Health Through California’s Schools, Consumers Union documents that school personnel recognize the benefits Healthy Families and Medi-Cal offer and that many schools are eager to participate in outreach. But most schools lack the funds and staff to undertake comprehensive outreach and enrollment initiatives.
The report highlights a variety of successful school-based initiatives across the state. For example, the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in San Jose has created a partnership with a local nonprofit to organize events called “Healthy Family Application Assistance Days” and to offer special enrollment help to families who request information about health insurance. One-on-one outreach is the approach emphasized at the 49ers Academy Middle School in East Palo Alto where a community liaison contacts all families to provide information about health insurance programs and assists with the enrollment process. The Children’s Health Access and Medi-Cal for Children Program (CHAMP) is working in the Los Angeles Unified School District to train parent volunteers to help make other parents aware of available healthcare programs and to organize community meetings to increase enrollment. At Richmond High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, Consumers Union has teamed up with Communities in Schools to promote enrollment through a peer education program in which students inform other students and parents about health insurance. And more than 140 school districts in 48 counties have targeted children who participate in the School Lunch Program with a special outreach effort. Through such efforts, schools have become the number one source of requests for Healthy Families / Medi-Cal applications.
“These pilot programs have demonstrated that schools are a trusted source for health insurance information and a viable location to undertake enrollment,” said Cryan. “But despite many successful initiatives across the state, our schools remain an underutilized resource.”
The report includes several recommendations for improving school-based outreach and enrollment, including: 1.) increasing funding to support such efforts; 2.) creating more pilot programs to test a variety of school-based strategies; 3.) establishing a health coordinator for each school district to promote the health insurance programs and enroll eligible children; and 4.) providing schools with financial incentives and support to distribute information about these programs with other school materials regularly sent to families.
The California Legislature is considering a number of proposals aimed at increasing enrollment in Healthy Families and Medi-Cal. AB 1735, introduced by Assembly Member Helen Thomson (D-Davis) would require the state’s schools to send information about Healthy Families and Medi-Cal with applications for the federally subsidized School Lunch Program. Governor Gray Davis included an additional $10 million in funds in his FY 2001 budget to expand outreach efforts, primarily through a media campaign. And President Clinton has begun promoting schools as essential partners in identifying and enrolling uninsured children who are eligible for publicly-funded health insurance programs.
In 1998, Consumers Union established Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools, a project to explore opportunities for connecting children in schools with state-sponsored health insurance programs. The project, currently funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, seeks to form partnerships with schools to increase enrollment of children in Healthy Families and Medi-Cal, as well as to retain children in these programs and promote their utilization of healthcare services. To achieve these goals, Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools staff collaborate with state and local government agencies, including the Department of Health Services’ School Health Connections, as well as community-based organizations.
On Wednesday, April 12, Consumers Union is sponsoring a regional conference on school-based health insurance outreach efforts that will take place at Oakland’s Samuel Merritt College from 9 am to 3:30 pm. The event will bring together school personnel and representatives from nonprofit organizations and county agencies to review school-based outreach programs and to learn how these efforts can be improved. Similar conferences will take place in other parts of the state in the coming months. For more information, contact Consumers Union’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools project at 415-431-6767.

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization, serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.