School insurance may pay off

November 17, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Like other students in Washington County's public schools, Alicia Switzer was given several informational fliers on the first day of school. She read them and held onto them.

So when Switzer found out she was pregnant at age 16, she pulled out the application for the state- and federally-funded Maryland Children's Health Program, or MCHP, and discussed it with her parents.

Switzer had primary insurance through her father's job, but the three of them decided she should get MCHP as backup insurance.


"If I didn't have MCHP, I wouldn't have been able to afford" all the follow-up care for the baby, said Switzer, 19, of Sharpsburg.

Her father's insurance covered the delivery of Switzer's daughter, Sierra Malatt, but it was MCHP that paid the rest, including newborn care, the hospital stay and most of her co-pays for doctor visits, she said.

The MCHP applications are no longer handed out to each student in Washington County schools. They are available in schools' health rooms, said Christine Brown, income maintenance specialist with MCHP for the Washington County Health Department.

Three years ago, the applications were sent home with every student. The following year, they were given only to students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. Last year the health department gave schools applications to have available for students to pick up in the health rooms, Brown said.

The health department restocks applications when needed, Brown said. Since every student was given an application three years ago, the only families not aware of the program are those of new and transferring students, Brown said.

School nurses know who has insurance and who doesn't, so they can make students aware of the program. Students who previously were enrolled in the program get renewal forms at home.

Even without the information being handed out to every student, the number of students enrolled in MCHP has increased, Brown said.

As of August, there were 3,320 children in Washington County enrolled in MCHP, Brown said. There were 2,924 children enrolled in June 2002 and 2,408 children in June 2001.

Private or public insurance programs like MCHP give low- and moderate-income families a way to provide primary health insurance for their children for free or at a low cost, or they can serve as supplemental insurance, Tri-State area officials said.

MCHP is free for families that meet financial guidelines. For example, a family of four could earn up to $34,040 a year and receive MCHP free for the children, Brown said. There is one cost to cover all children in a family.

For those above the cutoff for free coverage, MCHP costs $37 to $50 a month to cover every child in a family, Brown said.

MCHP provides the same coverage to everyone, covering sick visits, checkups, prescriptions, vision, dental, mental health, hospitalization, lab work and addiction services, Brown said.

Other Tri-State area school systems that make health insurance information available to students include Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia; and Chambersburg, Pa., school officials said.

Some insurance programs offer a range of coverage from basic to more extensive, from covering a student during school hours and activities to 24-hours-a-day coverage.

School systems also often provide or offer separate coverage for athletes, especially football players.

In Washington County, separate football insurance is available because football players are required to have insurance that covers their play, said Ed Masood, supervisor of arts, health, physical education and athletics.

"The most significant injuries in all of sports occur in football," Masood said.

The economy football insurance, without dental coverage, costs $72 for the season, Masood said. The economy plan with dental coverage costs $80.

Since MCHP covers children from birth to their 19th birthdays, Switzer and Sierra were covered when Switzer gave birth.

MCHP is the only insurance Switzer has for her daughter, who now is 2 years old, she said. Switzer began working at Wal-Mart in August and someday may no longer meet the income requirements for free health insurance for her daughter, but she said paying $37.50 a month to keep Sierra insured wouldn't be a problem.

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