Lawmakers turn to schools to reach Medicaid eligible children

By Liv Osby, Greenville News

March 27, 2009

Thousands of low-income uninsured children in South Carolina could get health care through Medicaid but haven’t signed up, so legislators are helping get the word out by delivering informational fliers to schools that will be sent home with students.

The Legislature two years ago approved funding to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP, to families between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, said Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. That extended eligibility to 70,000 children, but only 12,000 have been enrolled, she said.

So the Center printed 600,000 fliers to let families know they may be eligible, but had no way of getting them to families.

On Thursday, the center announced that a quarter of the state’s legislators agreed to deliver the fliers to their school districts, which will in turn send the information home with students in Kindergarten through 9th grades.

“Today the Legislature is helping to implement the program they funded two years ago,” said Frank Knapp, Jr., president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, which cosponsored the project. “They and we recognize that SCHIP is one answer to our growing health insurance affordability crisis and we applaud their willingness to give of their time to deliver for children.”

Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, said he’s personally transporting fliers to the local school district.

“We worked in a bipartisan effort to expand this program two years ago because of the need that existed then, and the need is even greater now,” he said. “I’m committed to doing everything I can so that every child who’s eligible can participate in this program.”

According to the center, 340 South Carolinians a day lost their insurance in January, so more children are becoming uninsured as the recession deepens.

“We wanted to get a flier put in every elementary and middle school child’s backpack,” said Berkowitz. “Just think how many children we could get health insurance to.”

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