Group aims to help get health care to state’s children

          SUBMITTED PHOTO The Favre family from left, Brittany, Deanna, Breleigh and Brett. The Favres have donated more than $80,000 since 2005 to the USM Children’s Center for Communication and Development as a result of fundraising through their charitable foundation, Favre 4 Hope.


State policies are shutting out children who need health care, says a nonprofit group that will use an $800,000 grant to help parents enroll and keep their children eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The federal government provides 83 percent or more of the money to pay the state’s health-care costs for income-eligible families, but around 75,000 eligible children are not participating, said Roy Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program.

“It’s ridiculous that we don’t take advantage of these programs,” said Mitchell, who held a news conference Friday morning to announce the Health Help for Kids advocacy service funded with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Health Help will provide counseling, representation, evaluation and data collection for families in an effort to increase participation in the programs.

Mitchell, who was joined by staff members from Coastal Family Health Center, cited two reasons for low participation: a policy Gov. Haley Barbour’s office adopted in 2005 requiring annual face-to-face interviews for continuing eligibility and a complete lack of outreach by the state.

Mississippi, the children’s advocates said, is the only state in the nation that requires the annual face-to-face interviews, seen as a burden on working families. Also, they said, parents often are unaware of the requirement until they take children for medical care and learn eligibility has expired.

Barbour’s office said the requirement was intended to cut down on fraud. In March 2009 his office announced Mississippi’s Medicaid and CHIP fraud rates were lower than the national average.

Child health-care advocates believe the requirement causes far more harm than good, in terms of children’s health, lost federal dollars, higher administrative costs and increased health-care expenses for providers and, ultimately, other health-care consumers.

“This face-to-face eligibility has just resulted in a lot of kids being kicked off the rolls,” Mitchell said. “Aside from the suffering and inequity of it, it just doesn’t make good administrative sense.”

Persharon Dixon, medical director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Children’s Health Project, sees the consequences firsthand. She offered examples: An untreated insect bite turns into a serious infection, leading to an uninsured emergency-room visit; preschoolers with undiagnosed learning disabilities are labeled behavior problems when they do start school.

The advocates said other states have found ways to identify eligible children and keep them enrolled in the programs. Health Help hopes to at least partially fill that void in Mississippi.


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