Article City Forum Yvonne Hunter

Communities for Healthy Kids Offers Options and Flexibility

Yvonne Hunter is program director of Communities for Healthy Kids, a program of the Institute for Local Government, and can be reached at

Few things are more important to families than the health of their children. While health care has traditionally been the responsibility of county government, many cities are recognizing the positive role they can play in helping eligible residents secure free or low-cost health insurance for their children.

Kids with health insurance are more likely to get the care they need to ensure healthy development, and healthy kids do better in school. Investing in children’s health insurance saves taxpayers money because kids with health insurance tend to avoid more costly emergency or hospital care. Finally, helping kids get health coverage is a great way for city leaders to build trust with their community.

Cities in California are pioneering a new effort to help connect eligible families (whose employers do not provide health insurance for dependents) with free or low-cost health insurance for their children. Through Communities for Healthy Kids (CHK), a program of the Institute for Local Government (ILG), cities from Salinas to Riverside are creating innovative ways to collaborate with other partners and identify and enroll eligible children in free or low-cost health insurance.

Different Options Available for Children of Working Families

Depending upon income levels and the county where they live, working families without health insurance for their dependents may be eligible for one of three types of health insurance for their children. Depending upon income levels and number of children covered, the cost of the insurance may range from free to $45 per month per family.

  1. Medi-Cal is for working and non-working families. It covers children to age 21 and provides comprehensive medical, dental and vision benefits. A family of four with an annual income of up to $20,652 may qualify. Children must be U.S. citizens.
  2. Healthy Families Program covers children from birth to age 19 and those who do not qualify for free Medi-Cal. Coverage includes health, dental and vision for children whose families do not have employer-sponsored insurance. A family of four with an annual income of up to about $51,000 may qualify. Children must be U.S. citizens.
  3. Children’s Health Initiatives (CHIs) offer coverage in 28 counties for some children ineligible for state-sponsored programs due to income levels or citizenship.

Different Cities, Different Models

Some participating communities are partnering with the county and schools, while others are stand alone. All, however, work closely with health plans and — in counties that have them — the county Children’s Health Initiatives. All CHK communities are testing different ways to reach out to families with potentially eligible children.

The creativity of cities participating in CHK demonstrates their commitment to helping residents. Participants and representatives in each project share lessons learned with other communities that participate in the program. The goal is to encourage cities throughout the state to adapt and institutionalize successful programs in ways that work for their particular communities.

Salinas Fair Hosts Health Plans

The City of Salinas included information about affordable health insurance at its annual community resource fair in December 2007. More than 2,000 people attended the fair held at the city’s Closter Community Park. With assistance from ILG, several health plans participated and provided information about affordable health insurance. One health plan representative estimated that about 500 people stopped by her table, and she said, “It was one of the best organized and planned events I have attended.” Continuing the tradition, Salinas invited health plans to another community resource fair held in spring 2008.

La Mesa Adds Children’s Health to Wellness Program

In 2006, the La Mesa City Council approved the La Mesa Community Wellness Program. Its goal is to work collaboratively with different groups to improve overall community health and wellness by providing opportunities and strategies that support a healthy lifestyle for all residents. Adding a children’s health insurance component was the next logical step in La Mesa’s pioneering work in the youth and community wellness area.

As part of its CHK project, La Mesa is working with several local collaborating partners, including the Grossmont Healthcare District, the La Mesa Collaborative, Grossmont Shopping Center and the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. These partners will sponsor outreach and enrollment activities in targeted parts of the city where potentially eligible residents live. Representatives from the Cities, Counties and Schools (CCS) Partnership and Teachers for Healthy Kids are also participating in this project.

Santa Barbara Offers Enrollment Opportunities

Focusing on neighborhoods with the highest need, the City of Santa Barbara is working strategically through three community resource centers. The city has many families potentially eligible for affordable children’s health insurance, and it’s collaborating with the Santa Barbara County Children’s Health Initiative to sponsor the program. The CHI is able to enroll kids who are not eligible for state-sponsored programs. Local schools and teachers are also participating, as are the health plans that offer Medi-Cal and Healthy Families coverage in Santa Barbara. The city launched a concerted effort to get the word out about these options, with the help of Teachers for Healthy Kids and other area schools, teachers and health plans.

In May 2008, Santa Barbara hosted a very successful community dinner and health insurance enrollment event at the Westside Community Center. Approximately 65 parents and children from the neighborhood attended. The event offered parents opportunities to work closely with trained staff from the health plans and CHI to complete the applications to enroll their children in affordable health insurance. It also included an educational program on what to do when your child is sick. Entertainment for the children was available, and the evening concluded with dinner.

Two additional enrollment events are being planned for other neighborhood community centers in Santa Barbara, using the lessons learned from the Westside Community Center event.

Riverside Rolls Out Comprehensive Program

Under the leadership of Mayor Ron Loveridge, the City of Riverside has launched an ambitious program to incorporate affordable health insurance outreach and enrollment opportunities through multiple city programs and services. With funding assistance from the Riverside Community Health Foundation, the city hired a part-time employee to coordinate activities, including collaboration with Teachers for Healthy Kids, the local teachers’ association and school districts. Riverside plans to offer enrollment events and outreach and provide insurance information through its city departments. The goal is to institutionalize the activities so that they become part of the Riverside city culture. In mid-July, the city held a successful enrollment event during the grand opening of a fitness facility in the Arlanza Community Center.

Indio Partners With Local Chamber of Commerce

The City of Indio collaborated with its local chamber of commerce to sponsor an enrollment event targeting the families of local businesses’ employees and hopes to offer similar events in the future.

Huntington Park Builds on “Month of the Child”

Taking advantage of a community tradition, Huntington Park used its April “Month of the Child” community event to launch its CHK activities. In September, the city is working through three Neighborhood Watch groups and its Youth Services program to identify parents who want more information about health insurance for their children. The city’s strong neighborhood and grassroots networks offer great promise as outreach mechanisms to spur enrollments.

New Projects, New Creativity

Several other cities and counties are exploring opportunities to participate in Communities for Healthy Kids projects. To learn more about Communities for Healthy Kids and how your city can
participate, visit

About Communities for Healthy Kids

Communities for Healthy Kids (CHK) is a program of the Institute for Local Government, the nonprofit research arm of the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties (CSAC). In addition to the League and CSAC, CHK’s statewide partners include the Cities, Counties and Schools Partnership; California Association of Health Plans; California Teachers Association and Teachers for Healthy Kids. CHK is funded by a three-year grant from the WellPoint Foundation. For more information, visit

This article appears in the September 2008 issue of Western City
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