The Metropolitan King County Council today unanimously approved $443,000 for public health pilot programs. The programs – part of the Children's Health Initiative — are designed to ensure that uninsured children have greater access to health care.
"Healthy children grow up to be healthy adults. Children who lack health care face a future of health disparities that will impact the rest of their lives," said Councilmember Larry Gossett, prime sponsor of the legislation. "The programs are out there. By collaborating with the private sector, we have ensured health care for the most vulnerable children in the county by bridging the gap between communities and the providers that want to help."
Under the Initiative the Council adopted last year, the county will continue to advocate for the state to fulfill its promise to cover all children by 2010. The county has also dedicated $3 million to fund a second component of the Children's Health Initiative that focuses on enrolling the approximately 9,000 eligible children in King County in state and federal health insurance programs to which they are entitled and getting them into care.
A third component of the Initiative is to identify and remove the barriers children face in receiving consistent access to healthcare services by implementing innovative pilot projects, funded by private donors. Last December, the council accepted $3 million in current and future donations for the implementation of pilots that are part of the Initiative.
"Eliminating barriers to children's healthcare not only leads to healthy bodies, but healthy minds ready to learn and prosper in school," said Council Chair Julia Patterson, chair of the King County Board of Health.
"Ensuring that children have access to quality health care is a tremendous investment in our future," said Councilmember Larry Phillips, co-sponsor of the legislation. "This funding for the Children's Health Initiative will enable us to reach out to eligible families to get them enrolled. It also helps kids gain access to critical services like mental healthcare and dental care. This is an important step forward in closing the gap of uninsured children in King County."
The expenditures approved by the Council today are for two projects that are backed by privately donated funds:
Online Insurance Enrollment
This program will help families to apply and stay enrolled in public health insurance coverage and link them to services through use of Web-based processes. Currently, families face barriers in access to coverage and services related to paper application and enrollment processes.
The program will work with the State to develop the technical and policy changes needed for electronic submission of State health coverage applications by families; develop a "super-user" version of current electronic application programs for use by application and outreach workers to enroll families; and link to a pilot for online enrollment for dental coverage.
A long-term goal of the program is to use the Web to connect families to a health plan, physician, and dentist as part of the enrollment process. Another longer-term improvement to be explored is allowing families to re-certify for insurance coverage over the Web, to reduce the number of those who lose coverage during the recertification process. Similar efforts have proven effective in California and other states.
Mental Healthcare Access and Integration
This pilot will promote the healthy social and emotional development of underserved children in King County from birth to 12 years of age through increased mental health screening and linkage to mental health services in the primary care setting.
Mental health issues are common in young children and often go undiagnosed. Families face barriers in accessing mental health services that are often not integrated with primary care.
This pilot supplements funding and services through the Veterans and Human Services Levy and will dovetail with the state's Mental Health Transformation Project and the goal of the Legislature to create a better children's mental health system. It will be implemented through contracts covering five primary care practice sites that will embed mental health professionals within the primary care practice. The intent is to increase rates of screening for mental health issues in children and their mothers and increase the ability of primary care providers to identify and treat mental health problems. Primary care providers will also be better able to make referrals and follow up with patients when specialized services are needed.
In addition to the expenditures approved by the Council, a third pilot will be undertaken in 2008 and will be administered by the Washington Dental Service, which has allocated more than $1 million of its own funding for this pilot:
Oral Healthcare Access and Coverage
The goal of the pilot is to expand oral health insurance coverage for children in King County. The service will fund a dental coverage program for children in families between 250 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level until January 2009 when the State will begin such coverage. It will also develop a buy-in plan for families above 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
The appropriation approved today will also support evaluation and consulting services to ensure that the programs funded meet the goals of the Children's Health Initiative and align with state policies and practices.