11/18/2013 01:24 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

States Show the Difference It Makes to be 'ALL IN' for Health Coverage

With the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period well underway, most of the public's attention has been on the federal health insurance exchange, While issues in the federal website have slowed the national roll-out, early results in places like California, where leaders across the state are working around the clock to make the new coverage options a reality for families, should encourage us all. Almost 80,000 Americans have already found affordable insurance through state-based health insurance exchanges. California, alone, enrolled 36,000 of its residents, almost half of the total of other state-run exchanges. In the 16 states and the District of Columbia that are running their own exchanges, many are working as hoped.

These include states like Colorado, Kentucky, New York and Washington, where health insurance exchanges are reported to be running well. Kentucky's online marketplace, hailed as one of the best exchanges by the Wall Street Journal and NPR, has received roughly over 55,000 applications and enrolled 5,500 individuals. In Washington, over 7,000 individuals have enrolled in health coverage through the state exchange. In California expectations are high, thanks to a number of smart outreach and enrollment efforts in local communities, including one that partners with schools and child care providers to find and help families who can benefit.

In California, widespread political support of the Affordable Care Act gave state officials nearly three years to plan for the rollout of the state exchange and to launch tailor-made outreach efforts designed to urge the uninsured to sign up for health coverage through California's health insurance exchange, Covered California. By opening its own exchange and accepting federal funding to expand Medi-Cal (California's Medicaid program), California was the "pace car" for the nation on how to maximize what the ACA can do for its residents (only 16 other states and the District of Columbia chose to create their own health insurance exchanges, and only 24 agreed to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid). And as policymakers in California designed this extensive revamp of healthcare delivery, they understood the value of involving community stakeholders and actively sought their partnership to ensure that as many Californians took advantage of these new opportunities as possible.

One outcome was a focus on schools. Schools know firsthand that families need help getting health care, and every day they see families who need this help. The ALL IN Campaign, spearheaded by The Children's Partnership, has been working statewide to equip schools to help uninsured children and their families get affordable health coverage through Covered California. The Children's Partnership partnered with Covered California along with the California Department of Education, California School Boards Association, California School Health Centers Association, California Coverage & Health Initiatives and the Get Covered/Asegúrate Campaign to launch the ALL IN Campaign. As a result, California now has a one-stop shop for schools and child-care programs that want to help students, parents and school employees more easily navigate the new health insurance exchange.
The ALL IN Campaign is providing educational tools, such as fact sheets, wallet cards, webinars and videos, to schools and families and is providing on-the-ground assistance to schools, child care and after-school programs so that they can connect families to coverage. And it is supporting students like Juzely Duran, a student leader at San Juan Unified School District, who is recruiting fellow high school seniors to go into 22 schools in the district to spread the word about new health care options and how to use them.

The promise of access to health care in California is indeed great. Through the exchange, families are able to compare coverage options and enroll in the one that that fits their budget and their needs. Since October 1st, more than 2.6 million people have visited and more than 260,000 have called the Covered California Service Center. From October 1 through November 2, more than 227,000 applications were started.

We expect's short-term problems will be resolved soon. In the meantime, the progress made in California and elsewhere to help families find affordable health coverage shows the nation what is possible when states and leaders are committed to making the best use of the new opportunities to genuinely help the families they serve.