As children get ready to head back to school, parents everywhere are checking off their lists of the things they're going to need — backpacks, notebooks, pencils. But this season, many adults are helping to cover some much bigger basics for children.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Covering Kids and Families Initiative is sponsoring a Back to School campaign in eight cities aimed at enrolling more children in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Children's Defense Fund's Texas office is one of the organizers of this campaign in Houston.
Houston's campaign includes advertisements in local media, outreach events throughout August and a kickoff press conference and enrollment event with speakers including Grammy-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams — all designed to let uninsured children and families know that they may be eligible for help.
The Children's Health Insurance Program and Children's Medicaid provide low-cost or free health coverage to uninsured children in working families that cannot afford private health coverage. The Children's Defense Fund has already developed a children's health insurance outreach and training initiative with the Houston Independent School District.
The district asked about students' health insurance status on its 2005-2006 enrollment form to learn more about their needs. They discovered that 22.4 percent of students in Houston are uninsured.
The fund is now working with school nurses and parent support specialists at each school to follow up with uninsured children and to link them with coverage by training school staff to help parents apply for CHIP and Medicaid. Starting this month, a new partnership is going to allow the fund to expand this program to all 20 Harris County school districts, reaching more than 700,000 students.
The fund is also reaching out to find uninsured children and families in places besides schools. In August, the fund is holding its 15th citywide outreach drive at 20 Houston supermarkets. Together, the 14 previous drives have helped over 18,000 children apply for CHIP and Medicaid. A week later, the fund will hold another city-wide enrollment event at 15 McDonald's restaurants; McDonald's also will distribute CHIP-themed tray liners at 260 Houston-area locations this month. Clear Channel Corp. has donated 100 billboards promoting CHIP enrollment, and the Houston Dynamo, Houston's Major League Soccer team, is placing CHIP announcements on its tickets and banners being displayed at its games.
The fund is coordinating similar outreach activities and enrollment events in other cities and towns in Texas, and these innovative marketing methods are going to reach thousands of Texas families whose children need health insurance.
The needs in Texas provide a quick snapshot of the needs of children in the rest of the country. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation. More than one in five of Texas's children — 1.4 million — lack coverage. Nearly 90 percent of uninsured children have at least one working parent, but health coverage is often too expensive for families to afford, averaging $933 a month for family coverage, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.
But for many of these children and families, there should be an alternative: Of the 1.4 million uninsured children in Texas, more than 700,000 are eligible for, but not enrolled in, CHIP and Children's Medicaid. That's where efforts like the Back to School campaign come in.
Children's Defense Fund-Texas Executive Director Barbara Best was recently profiled as one of 15 outstanding international health care advocates — the only American to be so honored — by the World Health Organization for her work in enrolling Houston children in health coverage.
The Back to School Campaign is just one more step in the fund's efforts to make sure every child in Texas and America gets a healthy start in life. It's a model for the kinds of successful outreach and enrollment efforts that could make a difference for uninsured children in cities and states across the country.
Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund.