03/28/10 — County selected for child health insurance initiative

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County selected for child health insurance initiative

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 28, 2010 1:50 AM

Children with health insurance fare better -- from school attendance and learning outcomes to simply being able to access typical childhood needs like glasses and braces.

Wayne County will soon be able to better locate families lacking coverage, through a pilot program targeting children entering kindergarten in the fall.

Wayne is among 16 counties chosen for Gov. Bev Perdue's "Healthy and Ready to Learn" initiative, funded by a $678,210 grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October. The two-year project will expand statewide in its second year.

Rounding out the list, other "high-need counties" for the project include Cleveland, Columbus, Cumberland, Davidson, Edgecombe, Gaston, Halifax, Harnett, Lenoir, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rutherford, Vance and Wilson.

Selection was based on the number of children residing in a county, how many of them were considered in poverty and the number that were uninsured.

A regional conference to discuss the initiative and its implementation in the eight eastern counties was held at the Wayne County Public Schools' administrative offices on Thursday. Representatives from the N.C. Pediatric Society Foundation, which will head up the effort, led the workshop.

The audience was largely made up of school nurses, who will be called upon to assist with the enrollment effort.

The economic climate has certainly contributed to the drop in insurance coverage for dependent children in recent years -- with only 49.8 percent of the state's children under 18 having coverage during 2007-2008.

But that is just part of story, said Carolyn Sexton, Health Choice/Health Check outreach consultant with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services/Division of Public Health.

Statistically, she said, children in North Carolina have been impacted by loss of employer-sponsored coverage more than any other age group, with 11.3 percent, or about 270,000 being uninsured.

The effects are felt in many ways, Ms. Sexton said.

"Compared to insured children, uninsured children are 25 percent more likely to miss school," she said. "Twenty percent of uninsured children have vision problems. When they got insurance, that was the single service that was the most used, for eyeglasses."

The message to communicate, though, is that 68 percent may qualify for insurance.

"North Carolina offers two health insurance programs for children -- Health Check (Medicaid for children) and N.C. Health Choice (the federal name for the Children's Health Insurance Program)," she said.

And while it provides for the ever-important sick visits, medications, immunizations and surgery, it also covers "the bulk of what children need," Ms. Sexton pointed out -- namely, braces, dental care and eyeglasses.

Dr. Dave Tayloe, of Goldsboro Pediatrics, called the program a "super opportunity" to make sure children who are eligible for services receive them.

"It's a kind of open door, easy-user system where you can just contact social services and get it done," he said. His office also has the forms for families to fill out.

"In actuality, the kids that walk in the door at Goldsboro Pediatrics, our staff will find out if they're not insured and they'll put the forms in their hands."

Steve Shore, executive director of the N.C. Pediatric Society, said that now is the perfect time to blanket the communities, as kindergarten registrations are being held in anticipation of the fall school start.

"Every entering kindergartner will have a health assessment form," he said. "We're looking specifically at (whether) they have health insurance or not. We want to be able to do a follow-up."

While the program focuses on kindergarten, it will encompass other age groups, Shore said.

"Any kid (from) birth through (age) 6 is eligible for Medicaid and (ages) 6-18 may be eligible for Medicaid or Health Choice," he said. "The objective will be to get children into health insurance and from there help them get a medical home and regular routine visits, including all the screenings."

Forms will be distributed during kindergarten registrations, at the start of school and throughout the coming year as needed.

Ideally, it will not only connect families to services and resources but will contribute to a better childhood.

"We're actually going to be tracking these students to see how well they do," Shore said. "We will track it to show that they're better students, have fewer absences and achieve better."

At this point, a "modest sum" will be equally distributed among the counties participating in the pilot program, he added. The $3,000 for Wayne and the other 15 counties will cover such expenses as staff training and supplies, he said.