Earlier this month, the New England Alliance for Children’s Health team gathered with our partners from around New England to discuss current events and future issues in children’s health policy. We were pleased that partners from all six New England states could join us in Worcester, Massachusetts, and that our diverse audience included representatives from provider organizations; foundations; universities; community-based organizations; local and federal government; and state, regional, and national organizations.

Enrollment Lessons to Carry Forward

Donna Cohen Ross, Senior Policy Advisor and Director of Enrollment Initiatives at the Centers for Medicaid and CHIP services, reviewed past successes in children’s insurance enrollment—such as sending insurance information home in children’s backpacks—and urged us to think about applying these lessons to eligible but unenrolled children and families. We also revisited the wealth of resources available at insurekidsnow.gov. Advocates from Rhode Island and Maine also shared strategies they are using in their states to reach out to families to encourage enrollment in private insurance as well as Medicaid.

Updates from the States

We also heard a fast-paced, round robin presentation of opportunities and challenges in children’s health policy from each New England state. Even though these states are at differing stages of ACA implementation, there were some common priorities including affordability of whole-family coverage, access to dental coverage for kids, and ensuring youths aging out of foster care transition into adulthood with coverage intact.

Champion for Children’s Health Award

Community Catalyst President Kate Villers and Executive Director Rob Restuccia presented the Champion for Children’s Health award to Dr. James Mandell, who retired from his role as CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital earlier this fall. Dr. Mandell has been instrumental in supporting the work of NEACH and in leading the pediatric community in thinking about improving quality of care and increasing coverage for the children they serve. He urged us to continue advocating for high-quality, accessible care for all children.

Key Issues for Kids

To zoom in on a few issues of particular interest, we broke out into two workshops. Advocates from Connecticut and Rhode Island shared their work to secure a robust pediatric dental benefit in their state Marketplace. The pediatric dental benefit is a new required offering thanks to the ACA. We discussed strategies to ensure an affordable option for families shopping the Marketplaces. Meanwhile, the rest of us reviewed research on health insurance churning—the cycle of losing and regaining coverage—and then discussed approaches to this problem. Research has suggested that if we could keep children covered for an entire year after they enroll, we could reduce children’s uninsurance by two-fifths. We concluded that we have an opportunity to seek out better data at the state level to help us assess the magnitude of the issue and brainstormed policy changes that could help us move the needle and keep kids insured more consistently.

Looking Forward to 2014

We wrapped up the day looking into the future. I shared thoughts about the moving pieces the federal health policy landscape and noted three key policy priorities for children’s health advocates looking ahead to 2014: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Farm Bill, comprehensive immigration reform, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Each of these policy topics represents an opportunity to enhance protections for children, in terms of health and health care coverage. Our colleague Elisabeth Wright Burak, of Georgetown Center for Children and Families, presented data on the high coverage rates for children nationwide and in New England especially, thanks in large (and growing) part to Medicaid and CHIP. Eva Marie Stahl, NEACH project director, spoke about the ways we hope our partners will engage with us as we explore new funding for CHIP on the federal level.

Overall, the summit was a great way to connect with our partners and enable them to connect with each other! We thank all who attended. For those who were not able to join us, you can find materials and presentations from the day by visiting the NEACH webpage.