Back to School + ACA Open Enrollment = Affordable Health Insurance for California Families This Fall

With the back-to-school season just around the corner, few children and families are thinking about health insurance. Yet millions of them remain uninsured. Fortunately, California's top educators have already recognized how the two add up in 2013.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, California's uninsured parents and children will have a historic opportunity to enroll in new, affordable health coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). As the ACA takes effect, 5 million Californians will be able to get health insurance through Covered California, the state's new health insurance exchange.

As other states struggle to navigate these transitions, California's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, and many of California's leading education groups have recognized this important opportunity and have joined with The Children's Partnership to reach out through schools and child care settings with a set of new tools to connect families to health coverage.

Why is this the right way to go? When you think about it, probably no other network has the ability that schools, after-school, and child-care sites have to find and connect uninsured children to needed insurance. These places are known and trusted by parents, and they are in daily contact with nearly every family.

And it's not just families and children that will be eligible for coverage. Many after-school, child-care, and other education employees will be able to sign up for coverage through Covered California and Medi-Cal. With the majority of after-school workers being part-time and uninsured, they are a prime target of efforts to ensure all individuals have health coverage.

Of course, those who work with kids every day -- teachers, child care providers, principals, and others -- do not need to be schooled about the connection between healthy children, engaged students, and better learners. They know that regular check ups, dental care, eyeglasses, and other needed preventive care for kids makes a big difference in the classroom. Kids who are insured miss fewer days of school and are better able to concentrate.

But, making the connection between school children and health coverage isn't an easy assignment. More than 1.1 million children in California were uninsured in 2011, three-quarters of whom were eligible for Medi-Cal. Despite the new opportunities for coverage, strongly-led outreach efforts are needed to ensure that eligible Californians enroll in coverage, whether through Covered California, Medi-Cal, or other options. Since nearly all uninsured families are eligible for some form of coverage, this effort could tip the scales in ensuring California's children come to school healthy and ready to learn.

So, as kids enjoy seemingly endless summer days, California educators and The Children's Partnership are doing their homework to make it easy and convenient for families to learn about affordable health insurance options, get help enrolling, and even enroll at schools, child-care centers, and after-school programs. Together, we are building a large coalition of statewide partners to equip schools, child-care providers, and community partners with materials and other tools they need. Resources such as concise information about key enrollment dates, tip sheets about various health insurance options and how to determine the best fit for them, tip sheets about how schools and child-care providers can connect families to coverage, and websites, videos, and other materials will make it as easy as possible to enroll in health coverage. The goal is to connect schools and child care providers to the help they need, whether that is pairing schools with someone who is certified to enroll families, helping schools arrange enrollment nights, or helping schools use their computer labs for enrollment sessions.

As the first state in the nation to establish a statewide health benefit exchange, California is also at the forefront in organizing its network of schools and child-serving organizations to reach families who most need assistance. But if we truly want to tackle the health care problem in this country, other states must be committed to doing the same. We want California to stand as a positive model as school and child care leaders take advantage of this important moment so that parents and their children can access the health care they both need and deserve.