Children's advocates say a state health insurance program for children provides a safety net for those who don't qualify for Medicaid benefits.
Despite low-paying jobs that made bill paying difficult, Joyce Chapman made sure she had enough money left for insurance premiums for her children.
But last year, the single mother's fears came true. She was forced to make a difficult choice.
"Do I pay health insurance or do I feed the kids?" the Lawrence woman said. "Eventually, the food won out and I dropped the insurance."
The lack of insurance nagged at her.
"It worried me a lot. You never want anything to happen, but things happen all the time," said Chapman, who works as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor for a DCCCA Center program in Topeka. "We just somehow found ways of making it. It was tough."
In April, six months after coverage on her children, 9-year-old Eric and 12-year-old Christopher, ran out, Chapman found help through a program called HealthWave.
Children's advocates say HealthWave, part of the nationwide Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), picks up where Medicaid, the federal program that insures poor people, ends.
When she graduated from Emporia State University four years ago, Chapman was able to find medical and dental coverage through Medicaid, but when she found a higher-paying job after graduation, her eligibility expired.
"I think (HealthWave) is designed for people like me," she said. "I make too much money to receive a medical card for my kids, but I don't have enough to pay for medical insurance. That's why it's like a safety net."
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 60,000 children in Kansas were without coverage when HealthWave accepted applicants at the first of this year. So far, 12,000 children are in the program, and state officials say they hope to sign up a total of 30,000.
HealthWave covers children from birth to age 19. Medium-income Kansas residents not eligible for Medicaid and who have been uninsured privately for at least six months are eligible.
The income cutoff for a family of four is $33,400. The highest monthly payment for full family coverage is $15. Chapman said her $10 monthly premium covers glasses and eye exams for Christopher and dental and medical checkups for both children. HealthWave also pays for medical treatment, including hospitalization. Her other child, 18-year-old Tony, isn't enrolled in HealthWave.
"It's like a lifesaver to my family," Chapman said.
While President Clinton's health coverage reform for adults failed in his first term, legislators were more sympathetic toward the nation's estimated 11 million uninsured children, said Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children.
Brunk said now that health and dental coverage is available for uninsured children, state health agencies should focus on spreading the word.
"One of the issues that concerns us is (not knowing) to what extent are people aware that HealthWave exists and that they might also be eligible for food stamps, the earned income tax credit or subsidized child care," Brunk said. "We suspect a lot of these people are working at fairly low-wage jobs. And a low-wage job alone will not necessarily help lift someone out of poverty."
A report released Thursday shows that 27 percent of Kansas children living in single-parent households headed by women have experienced hunger. The Kansas Health Institute report is one example why programs like HealthWave are important, Brunk said.
HealthWave, working with a budget of $30.8 million from the federal government and $12.1 million from the state, is administered for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services by Maximus, a Virginia-based private company.
Vickie Johnson-Scott, HealthWave project director for Maximus in Topeka, said there haven't been surveys to track how many former Medicaid recipients are enrolled in HealthWave. But the six-month "no insurance" rule proves there is a need for the program, she said.
"We have 12,000 children enrolled, and that's fantastic because that's 12,000 children who didn't have insurance before," Johnson-Scott said. "Our focus is to get more children enrolled right now."
Johnson-Scott said more than 300 children in Douglas County are covered by HealthWave. SRS spokesman John Garlinger said 118 of them were enrolled shortly after the program kicked off in January.
Kay Kent, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said most HealthWave services are supplied by private doctors and dentists affiliated with the plan, but the health department provides immunizations and checkups for HealthWave children and others who can't afford to visit doctors for those services.
"One of the things we don't want is for children to go without insurance when this program is available," Kent said. "Folks who don't have health insurance generally wait until a medical problem gets worse, and we don't want that happening."
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CATCH THE WAVE
The HealthWave insurance program provides inexpensive coverage for low-income families. To apply or to inquire about eligibility requirements, call 1-800-792-4884 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.