Alachua County Approves Child Health Care Initiative

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Alachua County School Board members sit in session on Tuesday evening. The board unanimously approved the Connecting Kids to Coverage program, which will help reduce the number of uninsured students and families in Alachua County. That number is currently at 21 percent. photo by Mireillee Lamourt
Alachua County School Board members, pictured Tuesday, approved the Connecting Kids to Coverage initiative, which aims to enroll Alachua County students and families in health insurance. (Photo by Mireillee Lamourt/ WUFT News)

Drawings of dinosaurs, kings and queens, and starry nights from Hidden Oak and Stephen Foster elementary schools lined the wall behind the Alachua County School Board members Tuesday evening.

By a unanimous vote, the board approved a federal grant proposal aimed at combating the number of students and families in Alachua County without health insurance.

In Alachua County, 21 percent of students — about 6,300 — are uninsured, according to the county’s health department.

The Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Program is a national initiative that creates opportunities for families to enroll in health insurance or renew their current health care plan.

“This program should be able to open the door to give children healthier lives,” said Patricia Hughes, Alachua County’s supervisor of health services.

Hughes initially proposed that Alachua County apply for the grant, which is estimated at $426,000 over two years.

Signing up for health insurance online is still a new concept, Hughes said, and most of the students and families who are in need of health insurance have Internet access at home only through cellphones.

Hughes said she hopes the program will help families overcome the technological barriers of applying for health insurance.

While signing up for health insurance online isn’t the only method, it is considered the easiest. The only in-person options to help sign up for health coverage are through certified counselors who work for the U.S. Department of Health, often found online, or through private insurance agents and brokers.

Two credentialed school social workers and a clerical aide will be responsible for carrying out the program under the supervision of district employees. They will travel the county and work with guidance counselors, nurses and other full-time staff members at schools with high-need populations to identify families without coverage.

The program will initially target schools in which more than 35 percent of the student population receives free or reduced lunch. It aims to enroll 10 percent of those without health insurance into Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program within the first year.

About 41 percent of the county’s students are either underinsured or are uninsured, according to the county health department.

“There’s a whole section of our community without access to quality healthcare,” school board member April Griffin said Tuesday.

Everett Caudle, director of project and staff development for Alachua County Public Schools, sponsored the proposal. The hiring process for the social workers and clerical aide will begin once the grant has been received, which will likely be in May, he said.

“What we have found is that as you improve life conditions for students, it usually has an extension into academic performance,” Caudle said.

The program, if the grant is received, is set to begin in the 2016-17 school year.

About Mireillee Lamourt

Mireillee is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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