Connecting With the Kids
Local 29 members are helping low-income families get Kaiser Permanente coverage for their kids
For more than 10 years, Kaiser Permanente’s Child Health Program has been veiled in relative obscurity despite the extraordinary service it offers.
Even more unknown is the role KP enrollment processors in Northern California, who are represented by OPEIU Local 29, are playing in helping the charitable health program fulfill KP’s mission of serving our communities.
“I like to say that we’re the best-kept secret of KP,” says Sharlene Jones, an enrollment processor who screens applicants for eligibility and guides them through the sign-up process. The community benefit program provides comprehensive medical, dental and optical coverage at little or no cost to children ages 19 and younger whose family income falls below the federal poverty level and who have no other coverage options.
Since August, the Oakland-based enrollment processors have attended more than 40 health coverage enrollment or outreach events across Northern California, from informational sessions at small medical clinics to large events like the “We Connect Health Care” enrollment and resource fair in Fresno, which drew thousands of people. The processors answer any question thrown at them about the Child Health Program and help enroll those who qualify.
“Our processors are able to help families right on the spot,” says Sara Hurd, a former employee who until recently led outreach for the program. “They know what challenges are and how to work through them.”
The Child Health Program has a goal of enrolling 80,000 qualified children across Northern and Southern California. The work the Local 29 members are doing to help meet that goal fits within the framework of Labor Management Partnership efforts to grow the number of Kaiser Permanente members—and to establish positive member relationships that can last a lifetime.
As outreach coordinator, Hurd’s priority was getting the word out about the program and forging relationships with community organizations. She also served as the sole contact for prospective applicants at outreach events—but she didn’t have the detailed enrollment knowledge the Local 29 processors have.
Maury Rosas, manager of Charitable Health Coverage operations, reached out to enlist the processors’ help. Including them in the work, Hurd says, “has been invaluable”—and as of May 2014, more than 77,000 children were enrolled.
“We needed people who really understood what the applications are about and could help people with eligibility,” Rosas says. Before he requested their help in the field, the enrollment processors’ interactions with potential qualifying applicants were by phone or letter.
“We’re able to answer their questions,” Jones says. “It allows us to put a face on KP.”
Many of the processers who attend the events have bilingual certification and are skilled in walking applicants through enrollment in Spanish.
“It’s important to show (the public) that we’re not just sitting behind a desk, pushing papers,” says Miriam Garcia, an enrollment processor. “We’re the labor force behind it all….We’re here to work with the community and are proud of KP.”
Demonstrating a commitment
The effort has been an unqualified success, Rosas says, from community agencies asking for repeat visits to the response of the children’s parents.
“They took me by the hand and walked me through the process of completing the application and made me feel comfortable with the process,” says Rufina Garcia, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. Garcia enrolled her three children in the program at an outreach event in March. “This has been the first time when I could walk in and give my information and be signed up right there.”
Delivering on KP’s mission in partnership between labor and management also helps build relationships with potential union-oriented purchasers of health care, says Katy McKenzie, a consultant to LMP and its membership growth work.
“It goes a long way when you’re talking to unions that represent low-wage workers,” McKenzie says. “They see that we actually do care about caring for people and our communities. It’s not just about selling something to them.”
McKenzie and others involved in the growth work helped promote the Child Health Program to unions representing low-wage or part-time workers, such as laundry or home care workers—people who don’t get dependent health care coverage as part of their job benefits or who can’t afford what is offered to them.
“It’s a great opportunity to see that management is working with labor as a team,” Miriam Garcia says. “We’re not only supporting KP, but we’re supporting our own labor force. We’re showing that we can work together and make a change. We’re helping make a change that carries over into the community.”
That kind of caring makes an impression. Rufina Garcia, who only has catastrophic medical coverage for herself, says she would choose Kaiser Permanente for her whole family given the chance.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” she says. “The way they treat my children is incredible. (The doctors and nurses) are very caring—they have more patience and actually listen to the kids….I believe they take better care of my children.”