Article Features Yvonne Hunter

Convenient Resources to Help Families Find Affordable Health Insurance for Their Children

Yvonne Hunter is a program director at the Institute for Local Government (ILG). She can be reached at

The health of a community’s children is critical to its overall well-being and is also one of the most important concerns of local officials. Finding affordable health insurance for their children can be a challenge for families with limited resources, and many working parents do not know that their children may be eligible for no-cost or low-cost health insurance.

The Institute for Local Government (, the nonprofit research and education affiliate of the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, offers resources to local officials to help families and parents in their communities connect with no- or low-cost health insurance. ILG’s Insuring Kids’ Health Online Resource Center ( is based on best practices and lessons learned by California cities and counties that participated in a four-year ILG program called Communities for Healthy Kids. A grant from the Anthem Blue Cross Foundation provided funding for the program.

Ten communities participated in Communities for Healthy Kids — Chula Vista, Huntington Park, Indio, La Mesa, Riverside, Salinas, the City and County of Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita and South Lake Tahoe. Local officials in these communities helped identify the best ways to connect with parents whose children are eligible for no- or low-cost health insurance.

Local Officials on the Importance Of Health Insurance for Kids

Why is it important to a community for its children to have health insurance? Children who have health insurance are more likely to see a doctor when they are sick, get preventive care to keep them well and perform better in school. In addition, helping families find affordable health insurance for their children provides an economic benefit to the community. According to Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, making sure children have health insurance is cost effective. He says, “Children with health insurance are getting the preventive care that they need and don’t end up in the emergency room, where the cost is multiplied.”

While counties traditionally have played a leadership role in providing health services for the community, cities too can play an important role. Riverside Mayor and League Past President Ron Loveridge says, “The argument sometimes is that cities provide police and fire services, public works and parks and recreation, so why should we be worried about health insurance for kids? Because the quality of life is at the center of what we do. And if you don’t have health insurance, the quality of life is at risk.” Loveridge points out that the lessons learned in California can be applied in other states as well.

Activities that any city can implement include simple steps such as putting information about affordable children’s health insurance at city offices, collaborating with local nonprofit groups or schools, partnering with local health-insurance providers, and working through local community centers to get the word out and offer enrollment opportunities to families. The key is to choose outreach activities that fit the unique needs and resources of the local agency.

Sandra Toro is a health advocate with the Santa Barbara County Children’s Health Initiative, which collaborated with the City of Santa Barbara’s Parks and Recreation Department as part of the Communities for Healthy Kids project. Toro says, “Working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department helped us reach families that we otherwise would not have been able to reach.” She adds, “Families trust the community centers and their staff.” This element of trust helps providers of affordable health insurance connect with eligible families who often need help to navigate the system and complete the necessary paperwork.

Online Resource Center Offers Helpful Tools

ILG’s Insuring Kids’ Health Online Resource Center provides information to help local officials assist families. “It’s a great tool,” observes Hal Conklin, chair of the ILG board of directors. “The Online Resource Center offers an easy way to learn what the program is about and how to help people in your community.”

The City of La Mesa participated in the three-year Communities for Healthy Kids program and successfully partnered with a local nonprofit group to connect families with children’s health insurance. “The resources provided by Communities for Healthy Kids were absolutely invaluable in teaching us what was available and how best to get the word out,” says Karen McElroy, administrative analyst with La Mesa.

In addition to detailed web-based resources on how local agencies can help families find health insurance for their children, ILG’s Insuring Kids’ Health Online Resource Center includes:

  • Helping Families Find Affordable Children’s Health Insurance: A Local Official’s Guide, a publication that offers ideas, tips and step-by-step guidance (;
  • A short video that summarizes the goals and information developed from the Communities for Healthy Kids program. It includes testimonials from California city and county officials on the benefits of helping families find affordable health insurance for their children, as well as highlights of best practices and lessons learned by program participants (;
  • Templates for flyers and enrollment information, links to state and national resources, step-by-step “how to” information and key activities to help local officials assist eligible families in their communities;
  • Information on how national health care reform affects health insurance options for children and youth; and
  • A short guide to understanding the role counties play in delivering health services (  

Helping Families in Hard Economic Times

Many families are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic environment, and working parents, especially those in lower-paying jobs, are often without health insurance for their children. The tools provided by ILG’s Insuring Kids’ Health Online Resource Center make it easier to link eligible families with no- or low-cost health insurance for their children. It’s a strategy that makes sense on many levels. Helping children get health insurance is a great way for local officials to build trust with their residents and underscores that they care about the community’s children. Healthy kids do better in school, and their parents miss fewer days of work to care for sick children. Kids with health insurance don’t use emergency rooms for basic care, saving taxpayers money. And healthy children are key to building a better future for all.

Creating Healthy Communities

The Institute for Local Government also offers other resources to help local officials improve the health of their community. For example, the publication Understanding the Basics of Land Use and Planning: Guide to Planning Healthy Neighborhoods identifies the reasons to be concerned about the relationship between health and the built environment, offers options for transforming that concern into a vision for a healthier community and provides strategies and examples of how to translate that vision into action. A separate two-page tabbed binder insert provides tips to help local officials consider which strategies and resources for planning healthy neighborhoods best fit the situation in their particular neighborhood or community. Visit for more information.

This article appears in the April 2011 issue of Western City
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