California County Devotes Tobacco Funds to Insure Kids
On Dec. 5, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an "unprecedented" plan that would allocate money from the county's share of the national tobacco settlement toward providing health coverage for all of the county's uninsured children, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The county's move follows an earlier failed effort by its largest city, San Jose, to use a portion of its $10 million tobacco settlement to create a similar insurance program. Under the $14 million county plan, known as the Children's Health Initiative, the county would devote $3 million per year to providing health coverage to the county's 69,000 uninsured children. Families with incomes up to three times the federal poverty level, or less than $52,000 for a family of four, will be eligible for coverage. "We're sick and tired of waiting for the national and state elected officials to respond to this problem. It's continually getting bigger and bigger," County Supervisor James Ball said.
Getting the Word Out
The program also will focus on informing parents about other local, state and federal health insurance programs and whether their children qualify to receive coverage through them. In addition, the Children's Health Initiative would "make up for any coverage gaps" in those programs, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. "We're going to go to schools, to churches and work through community-based organizations. It's really a grass-roots effort to find the children," county spokesperson Susan Fiats said (Bergstein, AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/6). For children who do not qualify for government programs, such as children who are illegal immigrants and those whose parents' incomes are too high, officials would sign them up for private insurance policies (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 12/6). In addition to the county's tobacco funds, the plan also will use funds from California's tobacco tax, the county general fund and a county-run HMO. Officials hope that private funding will provide the remaining $5 million necessary to run the program. Officials will begin enrolling children in the plan on Jan. 2 (AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/6).