By Wendy Lazarus
What a difference a year makes. Last September, as millions of children across the country and in California started back to school, there was real uncertainty about what the new health care law, Obamacare, would bring. While not perfect, the law can take credit for the enrollment of over 8 million people in the Federal or State Exchanges, and another 7.2 million enrolling in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the states that expanded coverage. Additionally, 3.1 million young people remained covered on their parent’s health insurance. And thanks to Obamacare, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition like asthma, diabetes, or a heart condition.
Despite the technical glitches at the federal level as open enrollment began, educators across California stepped up and worked with the health community to get a message to parents, students and the school community about new affordable health insurance available through the state’s Covered California health insurance exchange, and through an expanded Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal. No one knows better than teachers and others at schools that healthy children make good learners—and help keep the community healthy, too. Their efforts paid off. California’s enrollment numbers ended up being the highest in the nation.
And now that so many more are enrolled, it’s crucial to work to keep them covered. New efforts by the California Legislature and Governor Brown will helpthousands of low-income children and their families keep the health insurance they need. Essential legislation just signed into law in California will allow the state to accept $12 million in private foundation and federal funds to help families overcome a confusing Medi-Cal renewal process. The California Endowment will provide half of the $12 million, with the federal government pitching in the other half. That’s not only great news for California’s children, but also for its taxpayers who will save money in the long run.
Nevertheless, the push to get more uninsured people enrolled and to keep them enrolled must continue. It’s estimated that in California, 3 to 4 million will remain uninsured after full implementation of the Affordable Care Act because of missing open enrollment periods, immigration status, or other gaps in the law. More and more, schools and educators are helping out to spread the word about affordable health coverage this year. Across California, they are making enrolling in health coverage just another important step in getting a good start to the school year, like buying school supplies or going to back-to-school nights for parents. In fact,Governor Brown just signed legislation this week that requires schools across the state to offer opportunities for families to receive information regarding health coverage and enrollment assistance during school enrollment beginning in the fall of 2015.
Programs like The Children’s Partnership’s ALL IN for Health Campaign uniquely identified schools and early learning groups as an “on-ramp” to letting families know that enrolling children in health coverage is just as important for their wellbeing as it is for their education. Last year’s statewide coordinated effort provided 650,000 outreach messages to families and schools and helped promote a “culture of coverage” in California schools that led to more sign-ups; ALL IN continues to expand its reach to families this year.
Here in California, it’s our goal to enroll even more families as we look ahead to the new open enrollment period beginning November 15, 2014. We will also be working to develop innovative ways to be sure those now insured can find providers to obtain the preventive and medical care they need. Obamacare is a critical new resource that will pay dividends for children and families for many years down the road. We must do all we can to encourage the uninsured to take advantage of this right and as a result, lead healthier lives. That’s the difference we all really want in the end.