A new grant to be announced today will provide 7,000 Los Angeles children with health care insurance.
That figure is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of children who lack such care, but is seen as an important step in what supporters hope will be an aggressive campaign by the city and county.
The $1.5-million grant, secured by Mayor Richard Riordan from the California Healthcare Foundation, represents the most tangible result of a commission that Riordan formed in 1997 to tackle the cause of uninsured children.
Federal and state officials estimate that 1.6 million California children lack health care coverage; of those, about 700,000 are believed to live in Los Angeles County. Most are eligible for Medi-Cal or other state money, but hundreds of thousands are not, either because their families make too much money or because they are the children of undocumented immigrants.
About 500,000 children in California, roughly a third of whom live in Los Angeles County, are not eligible for any publicly subsidized health insurance and are uninsured.
The results can be devastating: Children suffering from mild ailments such as chronic ear infections can see those problems worsen and take a toll on speech and learning; parents who pause rather than take a feverish child to the doctor can see what they thought was a flu develop into meningitis or some other long, difficult illness.
In addition to the potentially difficult effects on children and families, those ailments can prove costly to society, as easily treated diseases are allowed to worsen until children need emergency care.
In his 1997 inaugural address, Riordan pledged to devote his second and final term toward improving the lives of Los Angeles children. That pledge has most conspicuously been focused on the mayor's efforts to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District, but the health care initiative represents another aspect of that same campaign.
"Every child deserves access to quality health care," Riordan said in a statement Tuesday. "Thanks to the California Healthcare Foundation, young Angelenos will now have a chance to enjoy healthy childhoods."
Riordan added that he hoped that other businesses and groups would follow the foundation's lead and contribute to programs that would spread health insurance coverage to uninsured children.
Riordan's Commission for Healthy Kids spearheaded the latest effort. Michael Koch, executive director of the California Kids Health Care Foundation, credited that commission with bringing public and private agencies together to secure the money that will supply Los Angeles children with insurance.
"This is by far the largest such effort," Koch said. "It's our first partnership with the city and county."
According to Koch, the grant will pay for children to receive comprehensive primary care, including medical, dental, vision, mental health and prescription drug coverage. Sponsors hope that children will only use the program for a short time, bridging a temporary period while their families work to qualify for other insurance.
A family of four with a gross income of twice the poverty level--an annual income of more than about $32,500 a year--does not qualify for state-subsidized health insurance. As a result, Koch said, hundreds of thousands of children now are unable to get insurance through Medi-Cal or other programs and yet belong to families where money is so tight that the parents choose not to carry medical insurance.
"Our mission is to improve the health of the people of California," said Mark Smith, president and chief executive officer of the California Healthcare Foundation, the Oakland-based group that is making the grant. "The mayor requested our assistance with this. We were glad to help."