By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Howard County officials are turning to the school system to help identify children who might qualify for health care they don't currently receive.
During the next couple of weeks, public school children will bring home notices, and messages will be included in online school newsletters inviting families to contact the health department about available children's health care.
"We bring people into the fold of insurance, and we immediately reduce the number of uninsured," said county Health Officer Peter Beilenson.
He cited federal statistics indicating that two-thirds of 3,250 to 5,500 children 18 and younger in Howard may be eligible for federal or state-subsidized health care but are not enrolled.
According to Beilenson, many adults who can't obtain health insurance stop their search, not realizing their children might qualify. Under the Maryland Children's Health Insurance Program, for example, a family of four with an income of $61,950 or less might qualify for children's health care. The children's insurance program sets eligibility at 300 percent of federal poverty level guidelines.
Beilenson said the health bureaucracy presents an "immensely complicated system" for would-be enrollees. "There's a lack of information, and people don't have time," said Beilenson, who became acquainted with the issue of affordable health care as founder of MCHIP.
Howard officials are coordinating with the school system as part of their goal to create a system that extends affordable care to 18,000 to 24,000 residents without health insurance. County officials say they will unveil in mid-October details of a plan that will provide comprehensive coverage without significant new funding from county government.
In the meantime, they're announcing several smaller steps, including a lottery that will enable 175 residents to obtain health insurance at reduced rates from Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit health organization.
Because of privacy laws, school officials will not give the health department access to student records, said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. But the school system will help promote the health department's message to families of the system's more than 48,000 students.
"It is relatively easy, but it is critical to success," Cousin said.
County Executive Ken Ulman (D) said partnering with the school system was essential to creating a county health network.
"Part of our challenge is to identify the [uninsured] population," he said. "The more information we can get, the better we can address it."