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Publication Date: Friday, July 12, 2002

Healthy Kids, healthy community Healthy Kids, healthy community (July 12, 2002)

By Diana Reynolds Roome

When money is short, health insurance is often one of the first things to be cut from a family budget. People lose their jobs and no longer have an employer's health insurance to cover their family.

Single parents struggling with too many demands on one income often have to drop health insurance in order to cover rent and food bills. Independent teenagers earning a low hourly wage are seldom able to afford healthcare coverage. Very few services are available to children with working parents who are undocumented. These families and individuals have no insurance, and may not qualify for existing public health programs such as Medi-Cal or Healthy Families.

This is likely to mean no regular check-ups for the kids, no dental and vision care -- all important factors in a child's confidence, well-being and optimal performance in school, extracurricular activities and everyday social lives.

Without insurance, children may not get their immunizations for tetanus and communicable diseases like diphtheria, HIB, rubella, measles and mumps. Those who fall sick may not see a doctor until they are so ill their parents have to take them to the emergency room.

Ultimately, this costs everyone more -- not least the child, who will take longer to recover and may fall behind in school as a result. It costs about $1,000 per year to insure a child, and prevent this kind of thing from happening.

The Children's Health Initiative (CHI), was launched in January 2001 after Working Partnerships USA and People Acting in Community Together had obtained the support of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors to implement a plan to make sure that no child is left without health coverage.

The board was the first elected body in the nation to champion this cause. At that time, an estimated 72,000 children in Santa Clara County were uninsured. Of those, 54,000 children were eligible for Medi-Cal or the state Healthy Families program.

Using funds from a variety of sources, the founders of CHI's Healthy Kids program were determined to make sure that none of the 20,000 children in Santa Clara County who fell between the cracks would be without health insurance.

These include children whose families' incomes are as high as 300 percent of the federal poverty level but who do not qualify for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. For example, a family of four with a monthly income of $4,525 would qualify for Healthy Kids. They would pay a premium of $4-$7 per child per month, depending on income, and for some families there is no premium.

This is a responsibility to the community," said Craig Walsh, executive director of Santa Clara Family Health Foundation, which oversees funding. "It's the first program to take on this issue of 100 percent, comprehensive healthcare for everyone from age 0 through 18."

Healthy Kids covers not only primary care and specialist referrals, but also dental and vision, prescriptions, mental health, institutional care, alcohol and drug treatment, some transportation and a 24-hour advice nurse. In addition, health education classes offer informational talks for parents and events like bike safety classes for children.

Healthy Kids makes it easy to apply for insurance -- an important factor for people who have difficulties with filling in forms, or are reluctant to get involved with government agencies. The application forms are short and simple. Forms can be obtained by calling a toll-free number and speaking to a representative, who will also assign a trained helper if needed.

Sign-up sessions are regularly held at schools, churches, and community events such as Health Fairs, where bilingual outreach workers, often from the community, are available to help with forms and answer questions.

Castro School in Mountain View had a successful drive in early April, signing up as many as 110 students for the program on one day. So far, throughout Santa Clara Valley more than 12,000 children have been enrolled, and the number of uninsured children has been cut in half.

The MayView Clinics in Mountain View and Palo Alto have seen a considerable increase in children's medical visits and health checkups due to the Healthy Kids program.

"The number of families coming into the clinic under the Healthy Kids program has more than doubled since last year," said Dr. Frances Killebrew, a family practitioner. This is a step in the right direction, she said, as regular checkups can head off problems that can be successfully treated if caught early enough.

Immunizations are important in prevention, as well, and if children have no records, the clinic gives vaccinations as though they never had any.

Tuberculosis (TB) is another disease that can be prevented if screenings for exposure are done early, especially for infants and children who have recently moved to this country. Sometimes the clinics make important referrals.

"One of the most common problems is the need to get dental care," said Killebrew. "Many people need encouragement to go to the dentist, or parents may not be aware that their kid has a problem."

In other cases, children may have conditions that could be life-threatening if neglected. For example, children with chronic diseases like asthma might end up not getting care until they need emergency treatment, or even hospitalization.

"Traditionally people without insurance have used emergency rooms for medical treatment," said Walsh. "With good preventive care, we hope to head that logjam off at the pass."

The money for Healthy Kids comes from tobacco settlement and tobacco tax funds, as well as donations from a wide variety of sources ranging from large foundations to individual donors. School districts, social service agencies, health and hospital foundations, even banks are supporting the cause.

Other organizations are finding ways to help, too. For example, Great America, Raging Waters and the Camera Cinemas will donate a percentage of their profits for August (coupons can be found in the San Jose Mercury News).

The success of Healthy Kids has prompted other counties throughout California to look into doing something similar. They too know that healthy kids mean a healthy community.

Find out more about Healthy Kids and sign up for insurance coverage by calling: 888-244-5222 (in English, Spanish and Vietnamese) or logging on to www.chikids.org.

Bike safety classes are provided on request to groups of 8 or more. To schedule, call Susana Razo, Health Education Manager: 408-874-1845.

Any organization or individual wishing to contribute can go to: www.healthykidsfund.org or contact Craig Walsh at 408-464-7091.


 

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