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Foundation Spreads Word on Health Care

Outreach: Effort aims to increase coverage for low-income families.


The California Endowment launched a five-year, $20-million initiative Thursday to increase health-care coverage for low-income Los Angeles County families through outreach programs geared to ethnic minorities.

Schools, small businesses and community-based organizations will be the main channels through which California's largest health-care foundation will seek to boost enrollment in the state's Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs.

"It was clear that culturally appropriate approaches were critical to the success of addressing the problem," said Robert K. Ross, president of the California Endowment. "We felt that this county, being the melting pot of California, was a great place to test these strategies."

The endowment plans to make the initiative a model for similar grants in other counties to reach the state's estimated 768,000 uninsured children who qualify for either Medi-Cal or Healthy Families, both of which are government-sponsored. Healthy Families is a program for children whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medi-Cal but not enough to buy private health insurance.

The initiative will target Central, South and East Los Angeles, El Monte and the east San Fernando Valley. Working with institutions such as schools and places of worship, the endowment will try to educate families, simplify enrollment processes and eliminate immigration-related concerns, Ross said. Parents sometimes worry about signing youngsters up for coverage for fear of endangering the immigration prospects of other family members.

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer said that schools are excellent agencies to enroll students in health care and that expanded coverage is essential for academic success.

"Kids can't learn unless they're healthy," Romer said. "If their eyes, their teeth, their bodies are not functioning, it obviously affects their ability to learn."

Tying insurance enrollment to participation in schools' free and reduced-cost lunch programs is crucial to expanding children's access, Ross said.

"In our grandest notion we'd love to see the term 'unenrolled but eligible' as an anachronism," Ross said. "I'm not sure we'll ever get that far, but certainly I think we can put a dent in that number."

The initiative will also triple the budget of VIDA, a San Fernando Valley project that links low-income families to providers and health education; the organization will receive a grant totaling $2.5million during the next three years.

With the increasing funding, VIDA plans to increase enrollment of San Fernando Valley families from 800 to 1,200. It also intends to expand its program into the San Gabriel Valley with a new project focused on training health-care promoters.

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