County buys health policy for 400 kids Professionals note toll on children of inadequate care

October 02, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel has launched a first-of-its kind initiative in Maryland, buying health insurance from a special Blue Cross-Blue Shield program for 400 children whose parents can't afford it.

Health professionals, who announced the program in Annapolis yesterday, said they are spending money on health insurance because they recognize the toll that inadequate health care takes on children.

"There are over 1,200 children in Anne Arundel County alone who are falling between the cracks," said Alice Murray, the county's director of clinical services.

"They're getting partial health care from clinics, but if they have an illness they do without. Or they wait till it gets so bad they have to go to an emergency room."

"We're filling a big gap here," said County Executive Robert R. Neall. "This is a good beginning. There's a large number of people out there without medical insurance."

Dubbed the Caring Program by the insurer, the coverage actually became available in Maryland in 1988 but its costs were met entirely through charitable donations. This is the first time that a government has stepped in and provided funding.

From its very beginning, the program sought to provide better care for youngsters from low-income families while cutting the costs of unnecessary emergency room trips. With medical insurance provided by the program, parents can afford regular check-ups and take their children to family doctors instead of emergency rooms if they are sick.

The Blues donate services to administer the program, with staff members lining up pediatricians willing to treat children for exceptionally low fees and soliciting donations from the public to buy policies at an annual cost of $200 per child.

As Mr. Neall and county officials explained the county's participation in the plan, two tow-headed boys with crew cuts sat in the front row, patiently awaiting their new insurance cards.

Johnny Wainright, a precocious 12-year-old wearing a Harley Davidson T-shirt, said his family has made do without health insurance since his mother was laid off in May.

"We have to go to the hospital if we get sick," he said, explaining that one of his frequent nosebleeds may mean sitting in an emergency room for two hours.

"What are you going to do?" asked his mother, Dorothy Wainright of Brooklyn Park. "I'm a single mom. There's no way I can afford insurance."

Since its inception, the program has enrolled nearly 2,300 Maryland children in the six jurisdictions it serves -- Baltimore and the five suburban counties.

Children generally are referred by local health departments or social services agencies. Their insurance costs generally are covered by private donations. Now, Anne Arundel has become the first government to insure children through the program.

"I've been saying for a long time that this is the way we hoped it would work," Bonnie B. Katz, program manager, said yesterday, adding that she hopes other counties will follow suit.

The state program currently has a waiting list of about 75 children, she said.

The coverage includes regular check-ups and sick care, something children cannot get from free community clinics, but not hospitalization.

The $80,000 used to purchase the policies came from state funds earmarked for new health initiatives, said county Health Officer Thomas C. Andrews. Although the county has money to cover only the first year, he said, officials are committed to continuing the program.

"We'll find the money, Ms. Murray said. "Believe me."

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