Rising to the Challenge

Nationwide, more than 7.3 million children have no health insurance. That’s more than the entire population of Washington State. This number is far too high—especially when there are free and low-cost health coverage programs available for children.

Since its founding, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to ensure that everyone in the U.S. has affordable, stable health insurance coverage—beginning first and foremost with our nation’s children. We are committed to this work and are proud to sign on to the Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge, an effort led by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The goal of this challenge is to enroll all 5 million children who are currently eligible, but not enrolled, in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) over the next five years.

The Secretary has outlined five ways in which the private sector, nonprofit organizations and government can meet this challenge. The Foundation has long been, and will remain, committed to each of the elements of the challenge:

  1. Cut Red Tape. One of the many reasons why children who are eligible for CHIP or Medicaid are not enrolled is that the enrollment process is too complicated and lengthy. The Foundation is helping states identify and utilize the best available resources to enroll kids through several health coverage initiatives: A signature program of the Foundation, called Maximizing Enrollment for Kids (MaxEnroll), is already making progress. For example, in Alabama, one of the states that participates in MaxEnroll, a new federal “express lane eligibility” option has been implemented, using information that’s already captured in the system to enroll uninsured children without their parents needing to complete more paperwork. These efforts have helped the state achieve an enviable 85 percent participation rate among children.
  2. Capitalize on Technology. Recognizing that innovative, nontraditional vehicles must be employed to reach and inform parents, grandparents and others about the eligibility of free and low-cost programs, the Foundation is funding research aimed at identifying new technologies—online and otherwise—to ensure that eligible children are enrolled in health insurance programs. The Foundation has supported efforts to identify ways for states to match health coverage data with other public benefits data to locate children who are likely eligible but not yet enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. This use of technology is an important way to ensure that children who may be eligible for insurance programs don’t slip through the cracks.
  3. Create Opportunities to Sign Up. The Foundation has long been focused on increasing children’s enrollment in available programs, particularly during this time of year—when millions of American children return to the classroom. For eight years, RWJF has supported Back-to-School events across the country to enroll eligible children in public programs—recognizing that when children are sick or in pain, they can’t devote their full attention to absorbing all of the lessons that the classroom has to offer. To this day, many groups use this time of the year to reach out to parents and make sure they know about the options available for covering children.
  4. Focus on Retention. Enrolling all eligible children is only half the battle. Too often, events like a family move or a change in parents’ employment status affect a child’s access to health coverage. That’s why the Foundation is committed to efforts that not only ensure all eligible children are enrolled, but that they stay enrolled. The Foundation’s Covering Kids and Families program made retention, as well as enrollment, a priority in many states. The Foundation continued to support retention work through a grant to the Southern Institute for Children and Families. The institute worked with Alabama, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington State to improve retention in Medicaid and CHIP. Although the original Covering Kids and Families program has ended, the organizations that formed as a result of the initiative continue to pursue this important work.
  5. Forge Partnerships. The Foundation’s years of involvement with this issue have shown that no one organization can successfully meet this challenge alone. Building support across traditional divisions is a hallmark of RWJF’s approach and one that we think is necessary for success. The Foundation has traditionally found common ground with groups as diverse as the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Hospital Association and the YMCA. Working toward a shared goal, these groups have brought together elected officials of every political stripe to identify and work toward solutions to the problem of children living without health insurance.

The immediate health care needs of America’s children have never been more critical, and the need for partnerships has never been so great. Now more than ever – in these tough economic times– families must make difficult choices about whether to pay for a child’s annual check-up, or whether to purchase groceries or pay utility bills. That’s a choice that no parent should ever have to make, and by working together we can make sure that no parent has to.

For more information about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s efforts, visit www.rwjf.org/coverage.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A.
President and CEO
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation