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Campaign to boost number of insured children

Colorado Access, a non-profit HMO based in Denver, has launched a year-long campaign to increase the number of children enrolled in Child Health Plan Plus.

About 40,000 low-income children across Colorado are eligible but not enrolled in the publicly-funded health insurance program, often referred to as CHP+.

Many of these children are not covered by health insurance at all. Some are covered by employer-sponsored or private plans, but their parents struggle to pay the monthly premiums.

CHP+, which is funded with federal and state money, serves children and pregnant women from families earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Sasha Khan, marketing communications coordinator for Colorado Access, said the “Get Your Kids Covered” campaign will focus on raising awareness among parents and enrolling some of the thousands of children who are eligible but not enrolled.

Khan said the campaign began at the end of December with ads in several Denver and Aurora newspapers. Starting last week, there were also school bus ads for CHP+ in the Aurora, Adams 12, Weld County 6 and Thompson school districts. Later in the year, Khan said Colorado Access hopes to reach out directly to schools in some of the counties it serves.

Currently, about 84,700 children are enrolled in CHP+, which is authorized by the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Colorado Access, which is one of five HMOs that provides CHP+ coverage, offers the program in 34 counties to about 42,000 participants, the most of any HMO. About two-thirds of the state’s counties have only one HMO that offers CHP+. The other third have a choice between two or three HMOs.

Barriers to enrollment

Although Colorado’s CHP+ enrollment has increased in recent years, the percentage of eligible children who are enrolled is relatively low compared to the state’s Medicaid rate. Only 63 percent of eligible children, ages 0-18, were enrolled in CHP+ in 2010, according to the Colorado Health Institute. In comparison, 87 percent of Medicaid-eligible children ages 0-18 were enrolled.  The 2010 numbers are the most recent available.

Colorado’s CHP+ enrollment is also low compared to enrollment rates achieved by other states’ CHIP programs. According to a 2009 Urban Institute study of combined CHIP and Medicaid enrollment rates, Colorado ranked 48th, beating only Utah and Nevada with its 81 percent enrollment rate. States such as Massachusetts, Vermont and Michigan all had participation rates greater than 92 percent.

There are a variety of reasons that eligible children are not enrolled in CHP+, ranging from spotty systems coordination to an intimidating application process.

Christy Trimmer Boland, community liaison and policy analyst for Colorado Covering Kids and Families, said many families are not aware of the program, which began in 1997 and doesn’t have the long-term name recognition that Medicaid does.

Trimmer Boland also said some middle-income families don’t realize they fall under the allowable income threshold, which has increased in recent years.  Currently, CHP+ for children is available to families with incomes between 133 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level. That means a family of four can earn around $57,000 and still qualify for CHP+.

“They don’t think a program like CHP+ is available to them,” said Trimmer Boland.

Even for families that are aware of CHP+, the daunting application process can pose challenges. Both Medicaid and CHP+ use the same 15-page application form and require verification of income, identity and citizenship status among other things.

“It’s kind of overwhelming for families. It’s not as simple and straightforward as it should be,” she said.

Parents can get help with the application process at various county sites and HMO offices that offer CHP+. Later in 2013, Colorado Access may launch a program allowing people to apply over the phone.

Some schools also provide help with the CHP+/Medicaid application. Trimmer Boland said Pueblo school districts 60 and 70 have been pioneers in offering enrollment assistance and that Denver Public Schools also offers robust application assistance.

Linking health coverage and education

Aside from the obvious health benefits of being insured, children benefit educationally as well.

Studies have found that children with health insurance are less likely to miss school frequently for problems linked to poor dental care or chronic health conditions like asthma.

In addition, children with health insurance are less likely to miss hearing and vision screenings that can alert parents to problems that, left unchecked, could lead to communication and comprehension problems in the classroom.

Gretchen McGinnis, senior vice president of public policy and performance improvement at Colorado Access, said the biggest educational benefit of getting uninsured children covered by programs like CHP+ comes with access to well doctor visits and preventive care such as immunizations.

“You get healthy and stay healthy,” she said. “Those are the things that keep kids in school.”

This post was updated on Jan. 15, 2013 to reflect the correct income range families can have, as a percentage of the federal poverty level, so their children qualify for CHP+.