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Children Benefit as California Leads the Way Enrolling Families in Health Coverage

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March 31 marks the end of open enrollment for 2014 coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but many Californians aren't waiting until the deadline to sign up for health coverage. In fact, California continues to lead the way in embracing and implementing health care reform, and the state's school community is helping to spread the word and is benefiting from new affordable coverage.

With the help of efforts like The Children's Partnership's ALL IN for Health Campaign, California has already enrolled over 500,000 residents. That's nearly a quarter of all exchange enrollees nationwide! ALL IN is doing its job to help achieve these numbers by equipping the school and early learning community with the tools and resources they need to inform millions of uninsured families and employees about their health coverage options.

Indeed, ALL IN enrollment events are springing up in schools and child-care settings throughout California thanks to the efforts of education leaders, concerned citizens, and students like Juzely Duran. Juzely, a senior at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, watched her mother struggle with health issues while being uninsured and decided she wanted to help others avoid the difficult choices her family had to make. "I come from a family that has had to face a decision about whether to pay for medical care or a house payment," she said. So, Juzely organized an enrollment event at her school, and the Administrators at the San Juan Unified School District -- Rio Americano's district -- were more than happy to provide support.

The event was a rousing success, as students helped make the link between healthy families and better performance in school. Dozens of families attended and had the opportunity to speak to representatives, in English or Spanish, from Covered California and private health plans about their options, and many will soon be receiving health coverage through the state's insurance exchange.

As families in California continue to enroll in coverage, many find that they or their children are already eligible for no- or low-cost health coverage. Since open enrollment began in October, there are more than one million Californians with new Medi-Cal coverage and 85 percent of consumers who signed up for coverage will receive financial assistance to help pay their premiums.

The implementation of the ACA is an important milestone in children's health care, and as more children obtain coverage, more will benefit from the changes the legislation has made. However, there are two aspects that California ought to focus on, now, to make sure the ACA really works for kids -- dental coverage and enrolling Latino families. Today, less than 30 percent of children who enroll in Covered California health plans also obtain dental coverage. This figure needs to be 100 percent because tooth decay, the number one chronic disease among children, is largely preventable when children get regular dental care. The Children's Partnership regards Covered California's board's recent decision to require health plans in the Exchange to cover pediatric dental care a step in the right direction and will continue to fight to ensure all children are getting the dental care they need.

Similarly, many of California's children will miss the opportunity the ACA offers unless its enrollment of Latino families improves dramatically. Today, half of the state's uninsured are Latino, but only 20 percent of those enrolled in Covered California are Latino. All of us must do our part in targeting outreach to uninsured Latino families through Spanish materials and enrollment events.

Since October 2013, thousands of children in California and across the country have obtained health coverage, often for the first time in their lives. Through programs like the ALL IN for Health Campaign, The Children's Partnership remains committed to helping California kids not only continue to gain health coverage and important services like dental care, but to also ensure that they receive the very best care possible.

P.S. Remember to sign up and encourage your friends and family to do the same! Open enrollment for 2014 coverage ends March 31, 2014. If you haven't enrolled by then, unless you enroll in Medi-Cal you generally can't enroll in 2014 coverage until the next open enrollment period begins on November 15, 2014.