SONOMA, NORTH BAY – The North Bay’s coalition of community health centers is expected to assume management of the children’s health coverage and enrollment program Healthy Kids Sonoma County.

The move is part of the Redwood Community Health Coalition’s effort to streamline the process of enrollment in public programs, including the implementation of time-saving software currently used only in the state’s largest metropolitans.

“The Healthy Kids program is really important because signing up for public programs is a really bureaucratic process with a  lot of paperwork, and many of these families are monolingual or do not have a high level of education,” said RCHC spokesman Pedro Toledo.

“By keeping them enrolled, we can better educate about prevention and provide families with a medical home.”

In the wake of state cuts to the Healthy Families and public enrollment programs, the Sonoma County Board of the Supervisors is expected to vote soon to pass management of the Healthy Kids Sonoma County program on to RCHC.

In addition to assisting about 15,000 new families a year to enroll in government programs, the initiative also provides funding to children that do not qualify for other public coverage.

Despite budget cuts, the county was able to sustain that coverage for those ages 0-5 through First 5 California grants, but soon older children will be dropped, leaving about 600 kids without health care coverage. The children will still receive help enrolling in the Kaiser Care for Kids program, and they can still receive care at community clinics.

[caption id="attachment_15529" align="alignright" width="108" caption="Naomi Fuchs, Chief Executive Officer Southwest Community Health Center"][/caption]

“We can usually find some kind of reimbursement for a well child for primary care. The real problem is cases where they have a serious illness that needs a specialist. That is where it gets really difficult,” said Southwest Community Health Center Chief Executive Officer Naomi Fuchs.

“I think RCHC taking over the program will be a net positive for the health center because it will only strengthen our coordination and ability to enroll kids in programs.”

The board approval would be the final step in the transition of the program. The plan has already garnered approval from the Healthy Kids steering committee and other county health officials. The decision is expected in mid-October.

“We decided that in order to stay most effective in these difficult economic times it made the most sense to pass the program on to a community entity, not only because it makes financial sense but also because the coalition is already doing so much work around increasing enrollment,” said Sonoma County Division of Public Health Director Mary Maddux-Gonzalez, who will stay on as chair to the Health Kids steering committee after the transition.

“This has been such an effective program in the county’s effort to expand access to health care for local low-income children, and we will remain committed to the Healthy Kids program.”

Currently, independent nonprofits manage the enrollment initiatives in Napa and Marin counties. Napa has also opted not to continue funding children older than five, but Marin has continued the coverage for now.

The United Way along with several hospitals, the county of Sonoma and federally qualified health centers have provided funding to help transition Healthy Kids in Sonoma County. In July, the state discontinued payments of $50 per enrollment application submitted by workers, which paid for the employees’ wages.

Mr. Toledo said the new program is part of a larger effort to increase enrollment by the coalition, which represents 14 federally qualified health centers in the Bay Area.

The group is in the process of purchasing the California Health Care Foundation-created One-E-App system. The software expected to roll-out to Sonoma and Napa patients in November is meant to drastically reduce the time it takes to enroll and re-enroll in public health coverage programs. At the same time, it also tells the user what other government programs they are eligible for outside of health care, for things like housing or food stamps.

“It’s like the Turbo Tax of health enrollment,” Mr. Toledo said.

“Currently, the application process involves pages and pages of fairly complicated forms. This program basically asks you nine questions and fills out the application for you. It reduces errors and easily updates information from year-to-year.”

The product also sends information directly to Sacramento agencies in electronic form.