Caring for children

Last week, Valentine’s Day was also the sixth annual Giving Hearts Day, a 24-hour online fundraising event for the Caring for Children program. All online contributions of $10 or more were matched up to $4,000 by Dakota Medical Foundation.

The North Dakota Caring Foundation was founded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota in 1989 with the intent to increase wellness in North Dakota residents by improving the quality of, awareness of, and accessibility to health care. The foundation’s focus has been the Caring for Children program. Caring for Children is a program that provides routine health and dental care for children from families that do not qualify for government-funded programs such as Medicaid or Healthy Steps/CHIP, and cannot afford to purchase private insurance. These are children from families whose income falls within 161 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Caring for Children provides eligible uninsured North Dakota children, from birth up to age 19, with access to free primary and preventive health and dental care coverage.

Services provided include physician office visits, well child check-ups, routine immunizations, preventive dental services, mental health treatment and limited emergency, inpatient and outpatient care. Caring for Children also has contracts with eye doctors and there is a $3 co-pay for restorative dental care.

Lisa Faul, manager of Caring for Children, said there are limits on hospitalization and emergency care, but the focus is on primary and preventive care and the prevention piece is key.

“No other program in North Dakota provides this coverage,” she said, adding that the program fills the gap for working families.

Caring for Children is completely funded by charitable donations. Each donation goes directly to helping the children. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota contributes all administrative costs as an in-kind donation, which means all donations are used to provide access to primary and preventive health and dental care to children. Faul said it costs $456 per child and that money is raised through grants and donations.

“The churches are very helpful and so is Giving Hearts,” she noted.

There are several clinics and dentists participating in Caring for Children in the Minot area. Faul said a lot of the providers are providers for Blue Cross Blue Shield and hasn’t had anyone calling her saying that they can’t find a provider. For a list of the providers, people can call Faul at 701-282-1102.

With the health care reform signed into law, more North Dakotans would probably assume that there has been a reduction in the number of uninsured children, but the Caring for Children program has been seeing a greater-than-ever need for access to primary care for North Dakota children. During the last year, the need for the Caring for Children program has increased by 19.6 percent statewide, according to a news release. In 2012, nearly 1,300 children were enrolled in the program and the number may continue to rise.

Faul said there has been an increase in the western part of North Dakota as well as Cass and Grand Forks counties. She and her colleagues have been wondering if it’s tied to the oil boom or the economy, she noted, and North Dakota is definitely on the map now. From 2011 to 2012, there was nearly a 20 percent increase and a 35 percent increase in 2010 to 2011, “so it has seemingly been picking up,” Faul said.

There has been an increase in applicants in the Caring for Children program in Burleigh, Williams, Stark, McKenzie, Ward, Cass, and Grand Forks counties, Faul noted. Counties in higher populated areas in North Dakota would see an increase, she added. “Across the board we’ve seen an increase. It just depends on what’s going on in the counties.”

The Caring for Children program has one application and applicants are screened for the program that they fit into or are eligible for, Faul explained. It’s best for families and administrators to not have to fill out three or more different forms, she added.

“When they’re on our program, they’re on for 12 months and can reapply. We send notice 45 days prior (to the time for them to reapply), so there’s no lapse in coverage,” she said.

Even though Giving Hearts Day is finished for this year, people can still donate to the Caring for Children program. Faul said people can mail a check or visit the website and donate online anytime of the year. People can also visit the website to learn how to apply to the Caring for Children program and there’s also contact information available.

Faul thinks it’s important for people to know about the Caring for Children program.

“As a parent, if you fall into hardship, you want to know there’s help available,” Faul said. “Health and dental care is important in all aspects of life and it’s important for children to have access to health and wellness. We get a lot of positive feedback about the program.”

“Caring for Children fills the gap depending on circumstances and it’s nice to catch those kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks,” she added.