New health campaign targets uninsured kids in the U.S.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an estimated 45 million Americans lack health insurance, and nearly 20 percent of them are children.

These children are often without needed medical attention, including pediatrician care.

The Foundation, is currently preparing to launch its sixth annual Covering Kids & Families Back-to-School campaign, with the main goal of informing working families that their children may be eligible for federal and state health coverage programs.

It is planned for the two-month campaign to begin on Aug. 2 in Washington D.C., and it hopes to increase enrollment in government insurance programs and lower the health and financial costs for America's uninsured children.

The primary focus this year is on black and Hispanic children, who, according to the foundation, make up the majority of the uninsured children.

Sarah Shuptrine, national program director, says there are millions of children who are eligible for Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, but they are not enrolled.

According to a 2003 report by the Urban Institute, more than half of uninsured children in 2002 were eligible for these programs.

It is thought the shortfall may be due to the stigma surrounding government support, as well as a complicated eligibility system, says Shuptrine.

Apparently many working parents don't realize they can have a relatively modest income and still qualify for government-funded insurance for their children.

She says even though eligibility varies by state, in most states children in a family of four with an annual income of up to $38,000 would receive some coverage.

Shuptrine says that overcoming these barriers and increasing enrollment often translates into healthier children.

Since the government programs cover doctor visits, hospitalizations and prescriptions, they encourage parents to seek primary and preventive care for their children.

Because children who are uninsured don't have the same access to treatment as insured children for childhood illnesses such as sore throats, ear aches and asthma, the illnesses can develop into more serious and costly problems.

This often results in an increase in the number of days a child misses school.

Also uninsured children are less likely to have a pediatrician or family doctor, and are more likely to end up in hospital for routine care.

Dana F. Birchfield, director of government relations and administrator for education services at the Nemours Foundation, and a coalition volunteer, says that outreach efforts to spread the word about free or low-cost health coverage and its benefits is nothing new, however campaigns such as Covering Kids & Families have helped fill the gap left by cuts in state funding.

This campaign does allow a more robust and coordinated effort, she says, and rather than a financial counselor at the hospital trying to help families that visit in a given day, they can coordinate with people in the community to have a more significant impact.

Jody Ray, project director of the Covering Kids & Families grant in Florida, although she agrees with Birchfield about the campaign's significance, says the work doesn't stop there as they only reach a certain group of people.

She says more human resources are needed to provide assistance at the local level.

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