Guest Blog

In Arizona, the month of August is usually associated with 100+ degree weather, swimming pools, sunscreen, and the occasional summer monsoon or dust storm. It also marks the end of summer break for students from preschool to university. For those working to educate consumers about their new health care options and enroll them in health coverage, several factors converge during the back-to-school season, creating an opportune moment to engage families. 

Across the country, many local departments, organizations, cities, and school districts are busy organizing back-to-school events for families. At the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance, we view this as a prime opportunity to work with other outreach and enrollment groups to maximize their participation at back-to-school events and help link families to health coverage.

Prioritizing Health Coverage at Community-Based Back-to-School Events

Often, we are so focused on families that we overlook the need to inform and include back-to-school event organizers, whether they are city officials or school administrators, about the importance of health coverage for kids. We’ve found that building relationships with event organizers greatly increases the tools and resources at our disposal during back-to-school events. Advocates should work with event organizers to maximize attendee exposure to and resources for health coverage. Most event organizers are extremely receptive to the idea; after all, there is a growing body of evidence showing that kids perform better in school when they have access to affordable health care. 

Leading up to the new school year in Arizona, we partnered with the Latino Institute to identify creative ways to capture the attention of parents and promote health coverage enrollment during back-to-school events organized by the City of Phoenix. This resulted in a series of actions that elevated the message of enrollment including:

  • health enrollment flyers in the free backpacks handed out to all children attending the events
  • a televised back-to-school panel where our job was to talk about health coverage
  • broadcasts about where parents can get help with enrollment
  • a condition that attendees must learn about health coverage from health assisters or Navigators present at events in order to enter raffles for prizes

These strategies greatly enhanced our participation and impact. The assister and Navigator organizations we worked with increased enrollment appointments four to five-fold compared to the prior year, when their participation was limited to manning display booths. The increased opportunity to promote the message of health coverage was made possible through proactive and robust collaboration with event organizers. 

Strategies for Increasing Enrollment During Back to School Events

There are many barriers—including multiple, competing priorities—which prevent families from successfully enrolling, even if they make the commitment to do so.  Back-to-school events provide a convenient opportunity for families to enroll in health coverage because it is folded into other back-to-school preparations. Working with event organizers to provide families with the tools they need to apply for coverage efficiently and effectively can help improve the chance of enrolling families who attend the event.

To help make sure that families are prepared to enroll, advocates should work with event organizers to distribute reminders, checklists, and other information to families prior to the events. One significant obstacle to signing up families for coverage is that parents rarely bring all of the documents and information they need to apply for Medicaid or Marketplace plans for their families. Therefore, our team found an application checklist envelope to be a useful resource. The envelope is printed in English and Spanish with a checklist of documents needed to successfully apply in one sitting. Parents then have a guide and an easy-to-use envelope to collect their documents, check corresponding boxes, and show up prepared. 

To reach parents before events, we worked to ensure that pertinent health coverage information, flyers, and the checklist envelope were available through events’ promotional websites and other media. For example, at one back-to-school event held at the Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix, we worked with event organizers to place information about how families could access flyers and the checklist envelope, as well as other health coverage information, at the food court in advance of the event. 

Not all back-to-school events include an enrollment site for families, even if families are ready to apply and assisters and Navigators are available. To ensure families who are ready to enroll are able to do so when they arrive at back-to-school events, advocates can work with event organizers to make sure there is private space set aside for assisters and Navigators to help families enroll on the spot. It’s important to have computers, scanners, printers, and internet available on hand to immediately help people who are ready to apply.

There is no secret formula to successful enrollment, and everyone working to link families to health coverage knows that persistence and a positive attitude are critical, despite the challenges. We encourage advocates to continue sharing with their counterparts and to regularly review best practices taking place across the country with the goal of improving efforts to cover more families.  

Joe Fu, Health Policy Director, Children’s Action Alliance Arizona