Advocates seek aid for uninsured kids - Catholic Courier

Advocates seek aid for uninsured kids

Bemoaning the health-insurance crisis in this country, Marvin Mich posed a simple question: “Shouldn’t everyone have some kind of access to basic health care?”

The simple answer, of course, is yes. But according to the National Coalition on Heath Care, some 46 million Americans, or 15.7 percent of the population, were without health insurance in 2004. That total includes 8.3 million children, or 11.2 percent of the population.

And yet, Mich — who serves as director of social policy and research at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center — noted that during a 2003 campaign to cover the uninsured, the diocesan Public Policy Committee found that “there were about 100,000 kids in our diocese who aren’t covered and could be.” He said that figure is likely about the same today.

In Elmira, St. Joseph’s Hospital has sent city public-school students home with nearly 5,000 bookmarks and brochures imploring parents of eligible, uninsured children to enroll in low-cost or free health-care plans such as Medicaid, Child Health Plus or Family Health Plus. The literature offers a toll-free phone number for assistance (877/KIDS-NOW). For several years St. Joseph’s has taken part in this initiative, which is conducted nationally through the Robert Wood Foundation.

“Unfortunately, many of these children are eligible for health-care coverage, but their parents don’t realize that they may qualify,” remarked Sister Marie Castagnaro, SSJ, hospital president and chief executive officer.

Child Health Plus is an outgrowth of the State Child Health Insurance Program, a federal health-insurance program for low-income families. SCHIP is due for reauthorization by Congress next year when its initial 10-year commitment expires.

Keeping SCHIP free of potential budget cuts is a top priority of The Children’s Agenda, a Rochester-based advocacy group that is planning a petition drive at churches throughout the area to protest such cuts. Another group advocating Child Health Plus and the like is the Chemung County Every Child Matters Coalition. According to Kathy Dubel, justice-and-peace director for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier, the coalition has promoted enrollment application via bulletins and posters in churches.

“We believe this has helped increase participation rates,” Dubel said.

Yet Mich said too many families do not seek Child Health Plus because the application process is complex and would-be recipients might find it intimidating. Sweeney said St. Joseph’s Hospital provides on-site space so that the Chemung County Department of Social Services can assist applicants with paperwork. And Debbie Cole, director of services for Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, said her office lends space for a case manager to meet with clients in a facilitated enrollment program administered by Thompson Health.

However, an increasing number of families face the dilemma of earning just enough money not to qualify for such programs as Child Health Plus and Medicaid. For instance, The Children’s Agenda claims that 87 percent of uninsured children live in a home where at least one parent works — a sign of employers’ increasing refusal to pick up ever-escalating health-care costs.

Sweeney pointed out how an uninsured child’s illness or injury can impact hospitals such as St. Joseph’s, saying many emergency-room visits could have been avoided.

“By coming to us late in the ball game, it ends up being a financial burden to the hospital. Not only is their disease and illness further along, that also uses a lot of our resources,” he explained.

Along those lines, The Children’s Agenda noted that every dollar spent vaccinating children against measles, mumps and rubella saves $16 in medical costs to treat those illnesses.

Sweeney added that when children’s medical needs aren’t addressed as soon as possible, “They get sick, they miss time from school. That sets them back educationally, health-wise. It’s just a terrible snowball effect.”

Mich, who advocates for universal health care, said our nation’s current system is patchwork at best and that problems such as those described by Sweeney “are all symptoms of a system that’s not functioning well.”

Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic candidate for governor of New York, has pledged to bring universal health-care coverage to the 500,000 children statewide who are uninsured. His opponent, Republican John Faso, has said he would build up to 40 community health centers in rural and urban areas for children and adults.

Several of these low-cost or no-cost health centers exist throughout the diocese for families who, for whatever reason, find they don’t qualify for health-care coverage. Among these sites are:

* Southern Tier — Family Health Center of Elmira; Health Ministry of the Southern Tier in Corning; Bath Health Care Ministry; and Schuyler County Health Check in Watkins Glen.

* Finger Lakes — Geneva Community Health Center and Rushville Health Center.

* Monroe County — St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center and Mercy Outreach Center, both in Rochester.

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