Ensuring children have care: Family insurance programs


PITTSFIELD -- In a struggling economy that is slowly rebounding, many Massachusetts residents are still wondering how they'll pay their bills. Those with children are facing even greater financial challenges as the costs of health care continue to rise, even with the scheduled insurance subsidies program set to go into effect January 2014.

According to officials, Massachusetts has the fewest uninsured children of any state in the country -- less than 2 percent of the population -- but even with insurance, some families are still having difficulty paying for preventative medicine for their children.

There are programs available to help cover some or all of the costs of medical care for children, but there are some roadblocks, according to Chip Joffe Halpern, executive director of Ecu-Health Care, a health care access program for uninsured or underinsured residents of the northern Berkshires.

Halpern said programs like Mass Health help cover medical costs of children for families, even if the parents have health insurance through their employers.

If the child or children aren't eligible for Mass Health, there are other programs, including Children's Medical Security Plan, which offers outpatient services such as preventative medicine and sick visits at eligible outpatient facilities, Halpern said.

So why aren't all families able to get and pay for the medical services they need? Halpern said it's a multi-layered problem.

"There are four primary reasons why families are not enrolled in health coverage programs for which they're eligible," he said. "First is lack of awareness that a program exists; second is that even if they know, they may think they're not eligible and automatically rule themselves out. Thirdly, the application process for many of the programs can be daunting and difficult to navigate through all of the jargon."

The fourth reason families may not seek out help is pride, and the stigma that goes along with needing assistance, no matter the reasons.

Halpern said the country as a whole is starting to dissolve that hard shell and embrace the notion that it's OK to ask for and receive help.

"I think we're seeing that with legislation being passed," Halpern said, referring to the national health insurance initiative signed by President Barack Obama, which goes into effect January of 2014.

"Although enrollment starts in October 2013, we're already seeing people here wanting to know more about it and getting the right information on how to sign up," he said.

In the 17 years since Ecu-Health Care started, Halpern said he still sees new people who come into the North Adams office and tell him they never knew the program existed or that help was even available.

There are three locations in Berkshire County where people can get one-on-one assistance in enrolling for health care coverage help. Advocacy for Access has two locations, in Pittsfield and Great Barrington. Ecu-Health Care is located on the campus of North Adams Hospital in North Adams.

To reach Josh Stilts:
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