By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Enrolling children in insurance plans remains a challenge in Del Norte County more than a year after a new program started to provide another coverage option.
The state-run Medi-Cal and Healthy Families insurance programs offer plans for children whose families meet certain federal income guidelines. But CaliforniaKids can cover those whose families make more money and still fall short of expensive insurance plans.
That is, if community leaders can reach them.
"People just don't know what's out there," said Allan Katz, executive director of the nonprofit Community Health Alliance of Humboldt-Del Norte Inc.
Del Norte Children's Health Initiative made up of Del Norte First Five, the county health department, tribes, Rural Human Services, Sutter Coast Hospital and other groups spearheaded an effort more than a year ago to enroll more children with health insurance.
CaliforniaKids comes from CaliforniaKids Foundation, a nonprofit funded by donations, businesses and partnerships.
The program enrolls children aged two to 18 years old, with families paying a maximum fee of $10 per child each month.
The alliance pays members' costs from grants and donations that it secures. The initiative brought in about $70,000 over the past year and a half to cover costs and has enrolled more than 30 children over that time period.
CaliforniaKids has its limits, lacking coverage for in-patient hospital care, for instance. The effort focuses instead on ensuring routine physician, eye doctor and dentist check-ups, as well as mental health visits, inoculations and exams that can curb serious health problems.
"The point is to see the doctor," said Del Norte County Health and Human Services director Gary Blatnick of the effort to insure more children.
Katz and Blatnick want to get insurance for at least 30 more Del Norte County children this year.
Katz seeks partnerships with community groups that already network with families schools, churches, businesses, government agencies, clubs, foundations and districts.
"That's the basic strategy," Katz said.
The alliance recently funded an outreach worker at the Del Norte Community Health Center who can inform parents about the program. Last fall, the local nonprofit Community Assistance Network joined the effort.
"We have a very extensive reach into the county," said director Doug Morgan, noting the approximately 4,500 families that the group serves each year with housing, food, clothing and other help.
Staff members have trained to review CaliforniaKids program information with families and will begin signing them up this month.
Morgan knows that some families simply do not know of available insurance programs.
"That's really the target group we hope to hit," he said, noting that one of the three programs could probably apply to the county's uninsured children. "Almost all kids can be provided some type of coverage."
Katz, too, knows the challenges. Besides high costs, complex insurance forms and eligibility rules hinder some parents from seeking information on options.
"Let us figure that out," Katz said, noting the program's trained staff members who sort through material and guide parents through the program's one-page application form.
For some working and poor families, health insurance rates low on priority lists.
"By the time they've paid the rent and paid for food and paid for their kids' sneakers, that's it," Katz said.
Based on statewide surveys, Katz estimates that about 1,000 uninsured children live in Del Norte County.
Most could qualify for the state-run Medi-Cal or Healthy Families, meeting federal poverty limits, Blatnick said. The rest could use CaliforniaKids.
Reaching those families and raising the money to sustain the program remains challenging.
"It's a huge challenge," Katz said. "If it was easy, we'd have done it years ago."