Health care for children to be expanded

Initiative to find, enroll more eligible youths

January 07, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - President Clinton announced yesterday that the government will open a campaign through school lunch programs and child care centers to enroll as many as 2 million additional children in state health insurance programs.

More than 3 million children participate in the programs, but many more from moderate-income families are eligible.

"In most of these cases, parents just don't know about the benefits, or mistakenly think their children aren't eligible," the president said in his weekly radio address.

In announcing the initiative, Clinton was speeding up a process by authorizing states to undertake efforts to find eligible children. His order also addresses one of the consistent themes of his presidency: making health insurance available to more Americans.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, is designed to cover uninsured youngsters up to age 18. Many of them are in families whose parents are working but receive no health coverage through their employers. These families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, but too little to afford private health insurance.

State governments are responsible for enrolling children in the program, and eligibility standards vary from state to state. But because CHIP coverage is funded largely with federal dollars, the cost to participants is low.

About 60 percent of the nation's children who lack health insurance participate in school lunch programs.

Under the rule announced yesterday, the schools will give information on these children - the names and addresses of their families - to the state agency operating the health insurance program. The state agencies can then contact parents to inform them of the low-cost program and their children's eligibility for it.

Parents also will be allowed to enroll their children at child care centers, the offices of school nurses and "other convenient places," Clinton said. "No longer will they have to wait weeks, or even months, while their applications are being processed," he said.

Clinton said the federal government would also provide public money to help some employers provide insurance to their workers' children.

The toll-free information number, 877-543-7669, has received more than 400,000 calls in the past two years.

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