California's Share of $206 Million in Federal Health Awards: Zilch

The federal government has awarded 15 states a total $206 million for adding eligible children to the public health insurance rolls who were previous uninsured. California, regrettably, was not one of the states to share the Christmas gift from Washington.

That failure is an indictment of the state’s public health bureaucracy. Indeed, only 18 states actually applied for the federal payments, which were established when Congress and President Obama reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program last year.

California was one of only three applicant states that missed out on the federal awards, which very well cost our financially strapped state $50 million or more (considering that Alabama received $55 million).

California was denied because it failed to meet its target of enrolling 352,000 uninsured but eligible kids in either of the state’s public health programs – Healthy Families or Medi-Cal.

State health officials take some solace in the fact that they only fell about 24,000 short of their target. But that’s 24,000 children who needlessly remain without health insurance.

And they are not the only ones. UCLA researchers estimate that some 1.5 million children here in the Golden State lack medical coverage. The Urban Institute estimates that about 700,000 of those are eligible for state and federal health programs but, like the aforementioned 24,000, remain unenrolled.

Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, said that states have a “moral obligation” to enroll each and every child eligible for public health programs like Healthy Families and Medi-Cal.

It’s not enough for state health officials to wait passively for word of mouth to reach the parents of California’s uninsured children informing them that those with yearly incomes of $46,000 or less (for a family of three) are eligible for federal and state-funded medical coverage.

California needs a sustained, statewide publicity campaign targeting the parents of the 700,000 children who remain uninsured, despite being eligible for Healthy Families or Medi-Cal.

Indeed, if the state had had the foresight to invest, say, $25 million in such a campaign the last half of this year, it might very well have been rewarded this week with $50 million or more from Washington.

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