Thursday, November 22, 2007

Children receiving healthcare doubles with county funds


Less than four months after the Board of Supervisors approved a $1 million increase in funding for the Children’s Health Initiative, the program is already near capacity with an additional 475 children receiving healthcare, according to a report sent to county officials.
The new enrollees bring the total number of children served by the program, which is also called Healthy Kids, to 941, and another 156 children are currently in the enrollment process.

“This money is crucial to the health of a lot of children,” said Tara Dooley, program manager for the Health Initiative. “There’s a lot of kids out there that have unmet health needs.”
Dooley said the vast need for children’s healthcare in the county is being fueled by about 16,000 local uninsured children – the second highest for a county in California.
So while the additional $1 million allowed for the Healthy Kids program in the county to more than double in size, Dooley said the need for more funding has persisted.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal pushed for the $1 million increase and was pleased to hear about its success so far.
“This is what makes my work so gratifying and rewarding,” Carbajal said. “To be able to see the outcome of our actions and the fruits of our labor implemented in such a way that so many people are impacted in a positive way.”
While the $1 million increase in funding wasn’t greeted kindly by all of the board members – Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone and Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray voted against it – Carbajal said getting past the initial sticker shock and investing in health care now will save money down the road.
“Fiscally, we’re providing preventative health care to children and actually saving dollars because [those children] won’t wind up in emergency rooms,” he said.
Dooley said costs in the long run are chopped when children are taken better care of at a young age.
She also said children enrolled in the program are appropriately using the coverage. As an example, Dooley said 67.4 percent of the children enrolled in the 12 months ending in June received dental care, compared to 23.4 percent of children receiving Medical.
During roughly the same time period, 1.5 percent of the Healthy Kids enrollees visited the emergency room compared to 3.7 percent of children receiving Medical.
Before approving the increase in funding, there was some talk at board meetings about how uninsured children would be identified and how fast that could happen. Dooley said identification hasn’t been a problem.
She said fleets of local nonprofits that deal with low-income children have gone to great lengths to get children enrolled.
“The community response has been phenomenal,” Dooley said in her report to the board. “Parents are coming forward to enroll their children. [And] community based organizations have stepped up their outreach and efforts to enroll low income children.”
Dooley said for every child she’s signed up for Healthy Kids, another qualifies for Healthy Families. She said for every 10 kids enrolled in Healthy Kids, one child is enrolled in Medical.
She said 59 percent of the insurance applications are in the North County, 29 percent come from mid-county, 23-percent from the Lompoc Valley and 12 percent from the South County.
Before the $1 million of county funding was approved, Dooley said Healthy Kids was funded with a $200,000 grant from First 5 Santa Barbara County, $37,000 from the state level First 5 group and an additional $200,000 from the county’s Tobacco Settlement Advisory Committee.
Dooley hopes the county funding is renewed next year, while Carbajal expressed optimism that healthcare reform will be reached at either the state or federal level sooner than later.
But until then, Carbajal expects the county to provide as much money for healthcare as possible to a growing swath of children who he refers to as the “most vulnerable” citizens.
“When the system fails local government has the authority and responsibility to step in and help,” he said. “We’re having major success in our initiative.”

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