- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

One-third of the 8.4 million uninsured U.S. schoolchildren in 2003 went without any medical care, according to a report released this week.

About seven out of 10 of those children are probably eligible for health care coverage under government health programs including Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the report said.

The study, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, marked the beginning of an annual drive to get children nationwide insured before they head back to school.

“The intensive period is now and September, when the kids are heading back to school and the parents are more aware of enrolling them in these programs,” said David Morse, spokesman for the Washington health policy group.

The group’s program, Covering Kids & Families, will spend $1.5 million on its yearlong campaign, which educates parents on health care coverage options for their children.

Medicare call centers

Medicare recipients in Maryland and the District may starting getting calls from nurses, asking how they are handling their chronic diseases.

The federal health insurance program for the elderly this week started a health care call center in Columbia, Md., which is run by American Healthways Inc., a Nashville, Tenn., health management services company.

The call center is part of a health support initiative the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is using to monitor the health of Medicare patients with congestive heart failure or diabetes.

“Programs like this one are long overdue,” CMS Regional Administrator Nancy O’Connor said Monday at a press conference at the Columbia call center.

About 60 nurses at American Healthways Columbia office on Monday started making calls to an estimated 20,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Maryland and the District.

The first batch of calls are to get the patients’ consent to participate in the program, said company spokeswoman Glenda Hull.

The nurses are expected to check back with the patients on their health status at least every 12 weeks, Ms. Hull said.

The nurses make sure the participants are keeping their doctor appointments, following their treatment regimen and working to improve their quality of care.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made the first call Monday morning to Dorothy Eaton. The 71-year-old Queenstown, Md., resident did not say what condition she has to be part of the program.

An estimated 160,000 Medicare beneficiaries will be monitored for their overall health by the program during the next three years, Ms. O’Connor said.

The program will serve Medicare beneficiaries in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Illinois, New York, Tennessee, as well as those in Maryland and the District.

The support centers are expected to save taxpayer dollars by reducing unnecessary hospital stays for chronically ill patients who treat their diseases with emergency-room visits, Ms. O’Connor said.

The companies running the program, which include American Healthways and health insurers such as Cigna Corp. and Aetna Inc., are operating on an unspecified fee per patient, per month.

Medicare stressed the pilot program is voluntary, free and will not change the participants’ health coverage.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail mhiggins@washingtontimes.com.

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