SINGLE MOTHER LaToya Brannen has a full-time job but, like many Savannahians, has to stretch every paycheck to cover the groceries and bills.
As a state employee, she took advantage of the health insurance offered for her and her 15 year-old son, Tyler, but the $300/month premiums took a hefty chunk of her budget. She worried over the high deductible and expensive co-pays, and the plan didn’t even include dental visits.
After legislation changes in 2012, Brannen discovered Tyler was eligible for PeachCare, Georgia’s government-sponsored health insurance program.
Now Tyler’s coverage costs $24 a month with no deductible, including vision and dental care. Visits to the doctor are just $2.
“It’s been great because the financial savings now pays for his athletic fees,” laughs Brannan, explaining that Tyler’s affinity for basketball, baseball and football can get expensive. “Plus, he got to keep the same pediatrician.”
All Americans are now required to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which also expanded eligibility for assistance programs like PeachCare and Medicaid. An estimated 5000 children are qualified to receive subsidized health coverage in Chatham County, and a family of three with a yearly income of less than or equal to $48,912 can meet the requirements ($58,932 for a family of four).
The problem is parents may not be aware.
Mayor Edna Jackson’s Campaign for Healthy Kids and Families is aiming to make sure that they are—and it will help with the paperwork, too.
“Even if a worker is given a family plan option through their job, they can put their children on PeachCare if the out-of-pocket premium is five percent or more of their gross income,” explains campaign manager Eva Elmer, adding that Georgia state employees and public school teachers can now sign up for PeachCare with no waiting period.
Collaborating with the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council and Step Up Savannah, the Campaign for Healthy Kids and Families has created a strong support for families all the way through the application and/or renewal processes for PeachCare and Medicaid.
A coalition of partner agencies is also on board, including Moses Jackson Advancement Center, Curtis V. Cooper, St. Mary’s Community Center, MedBank Foundation, Centro Hispano and Memorial Hospital.
With a goal of enrolling 2500 children by December 31, 2015, Elmer has been working small health fair events and passing out flyers at PTA meetings. But getting the word out to the area’s most underserved families remains a challenge—even to those already “in the system” through the Dept. Family and Children Services.
“With cutbacks to DFCS, families aren’t able to access actual people anymore with their questions,” says Elmer. “They have to call an 877 number and often wait for hours.”
Enrollment through the campaign has been rising slowly but steadily, with an average of 200 newly-insured kids a month. There have been marked successes, such as implementing enrollment services in the Juvenile Court system.
“Families who have court-mandated counseling or need psychiatric care can now get help with getting insured,” points out Elmer.
Bringing the public school system on board has also been a coup. SCCPSS nurses, counselors, social workers and parent facilitators have been trained in the available resources and can give parents direct access to sign up. The campaign has also connected with the Tourism Leadership Council to help insure one of the Hostess City’s most notoriously underpaid sectors, hospitality workers and sub-contractors.
Even the children of state employees like Brannan can be eligible. A six-year veteran of the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, Brannan now helps enroll other families in PeachCare and Medicaid as part of the campaign.
“It’s really rewarding to show people how this can help them and how many services are available,” says Brennan, adding that even with the ACA requirements, not everyone who lives in the same household has to be on the same insurance plan.
“It may be a little more work, but in the long run it’s worth it to make sure everyone is covered.”