Soledad Garcia and her 9-year-old daughter, Carolina, listen as Carol Sharp reviews eligibility and enrollment guidelines for a health insurance plan Thursday at the children's health insurance fair at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Soledad Garcia and her 9-year-old daughter, Carolina, listen as Carol Sharp reviews eligibility and enrollment guidelines for a health insurance plan Thursday at the children's health insurance fair at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

VNA ramps up health care efforts

Tough economy has more families seeking affordable insurance

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For more information or to enroll for low-cost or free health insurance, call Evette Simmons of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association at 871-7616.

— Qualifying for low-cost or free health insurance in Routt County is much easier than many families suspect, local nurses said during a children's health enrollment fair Thursday.

"People think, 'I work, so I'm probably not eligible,'" said Diane Miller, access to care coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Miller said applications for Children's Health Plan Plus and Medicaid, the two types of insurance offered through VNA services, assess only the current month. That short turnaround can help families with a parent who recently has been laid off and lost insurance for the family, even if the family previously had been secure.

"Maybe last year, they earned some money or have assets but the insurance is based on income," said Carol Sharp, a five-county Medicaid outreach coordinator for VNA. "They think of it as welfare instead of health insurance."

The economic decline has brought more families into the program to consider insurance options.

"Recently, we have had all kinds of people coming in looking for health insurance who may have recently found themselves unemployed," Miller said.

The VNA has seen a jump of about 50 percent in applications recently, said Evette Simmons, VNA eligibility and outreach coordinator.

"It's ramping up. It's not a steady flow right now," she said. "In the last five to six weeks, I've had more than 50 applications."

Those applications are for entire families and include far more than 50 children, she said.

"I expect that's going to get busier," she said.

One of the biggest challenges Simmons and other enrollment workers face is changing public perception of Medicaid and other low-cost health insurance, which can carry a stigma of being only for the extremely needy or poverty-stricken. She said health reform officials have made big strides in changing the views, but the negative perceptions remain - families enrolling at Thursday's fair, for example, did not wish to be interviewed.

Simmons said she has been canvassing the community to encourage families to apply for the insurance and to receive "presumptive eligibility" temporary insurance before the final insurance plan is approved. Her efforts have included sending fliers home with every student in the Steamboat Springs School District and advertising in local media and stores.

According to figures released in late 2008 by the Colorado Health Institute and collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 422 uninsured children younger than 19 in Routt County as of 2005.

The center also estimates there are 323 children who are eligible but not enrolled for either of the two programs.

By the middle of Thursday's four-hour enrollment fair, four new families had stopped in and six made calls. Simmons said families still are welcome to call her at 871-7616 to enroll in the programs.

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