TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: New K-State grant geared toward insuring children

By Morgan Chilson
June 14, 2016

A $990,000 grant to Kansas State University will create health care collaborations focused on decreasing the number of uninsured children in the state.

The grant, part of a $32 million national initiative by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will be used over two years in four southwest Kansas counties — Ford, Feeney, Grant and Seward — to create programs that enroll eligible children in KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, said Bradford B. Wiles, an assistant professor at K-State.

Wiles said K-State Research and Extension will partner with organizations that operate statewide to target enrollment and build capacity for about 1,200 uninsured children in those four counties. Primary partners are the University of Kansas Medical Center and the Kansas Health Institute, while such organizations as Childcare Aware of Kansas, Communities in Schools and Kansas Action for Children will help in advisory roles.

“CMS is very interested in the enrollment component,” he said. “Obviously that’s a big part of what we’re doing, but we’re really looking at building a culture of health, and a culture that provides opportunities for families to get the support to which they’re already entitled where they are.”

Elizabeth Kiss, an associate professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services who also will work with the grant, said it is difficult at times for people to understand the challenges of getting health insurance.

“There’s really an educational component of this as well, on the role of health insurance, how it can contribute to health and what health is, which is even broader than the absence of disease,” she said. “We want to educate people, increase their knowledge and help them develop the behaviors to go forward.”

Kiss and Wiles said developing a network with their partners was critical both to obtaining the grant and to its success.

“We know that, essentially, these are the most difficult families to reach,” Wiles said.

K-State’s partners have programs in place that will help reach vulnerable populations and bring resources and knowledge to communities statewide.

Insurance is complicated, he added, and when factoring in challenges such as English being a second language, it can be overwhelming to get enrolled and use the services. One goal of the grant program will be putting people in touch with existing resources at state and federal levels that they may not know exist.

Kiss said the program will have a strong push to find eligible children as they return to school — a natural point at which to reach them — and during open enrollment periods for health insurance.

The grant will pay for a percentage of Kiss and Wiles’ time that will be devoted to its implementation and for hiring positions as needed. KHI and KU Medical Center also have committed resources to the process.

The grant is part of CMS’ Connecting Kids to Coverage outreach. In this round, recipients in 38 states received funds to reach uninsured children. In fiscal year 2015, 327,223 children in Kansas were enrolled in either CHIP or Medicaid, CMS said.

“Following decades of progress and implementation, the rate of uninsurance for children has declined to the lowest levels on record,” said Vikki Wachino, director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services within CMS. “We know from the research that 91 percent of the children who are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP are now enrolled in those programs, an increase of 10 percentage points since 2008.”

In Kansas, the number of children enrolled in both CHIP and Medicaid increased 6.8 percent from FY 2014 to FY 2015, CMS numbers show.

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