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Amidst the generally gloomy news out of California about our budget crisis and cuts to vital services, there is one very bright spot: California is a step closer to insuring 700,000 children who go without coverage today with its recent launch of public access to Health-e-App. For the first time, working parents can apply for health coverage programs, such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, online, whenever and wherever it is most convenient.  Now, families can access the application from home, libraries, or anywhere they have Internet access.

Health-e-App allows families to enter basic information to find out if their children are eligible for the state’s health coverage programs. Health-e-App identifies which programs children are eligible for and routes the application to the appropriate program for enrollment.

As the nation moves forward to increase health coverage for uninsured children, especially during these difficult economic times, California’s new public access application system is definitely worthy of applause. Within just 20 days after the launch of public access to Health-e-App, 2,500 families used the system on their own to apply for health benefits, and community-based application assistants helped 1,500 families use the online application. Families even applied for health coverage on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. These early successes make it clear that families place a very high priority on their children’s health care, and that many are ready to use modern new tools that make applying for health coverage more convenient and simpler.

That is why The Children’s Partnership has long pushed to use information technology to improve children’s health and to help transform our nation’s health care system to better serve families in the 21st century. We continuously urge state enrollment administrators to streamline the enrollment process by replacing paper-based procedures with electronic ones that incorporate privacy protections and eliminate onerous reporting that undermines the benefits of new technology. Health-e-App’s public access application is a big step in this direction, and the early returns demonstrate the pay off both to children’s health and to program efficiencies.

While The Children’s Partnership applauds this new public access application and information technology advances that benefit kids, we also recognize that not all families have access to computers or the Internet or have the skills and comfort level to use these technologies effectively. For this reason, we are strong proponents of offering convenient access to trained people who help families use these health enrollment systems.

As we look toward continued implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), public access is a significant step toward creating the coordinated, simplified, technology-enabled enrollment system called for by the ACA. And California’s online public access application will have lasting advantages as the number of children who apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act increases in the future.

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Wendy Lazarus is the Founder and Co-President of The Children's Partnership, which advocates for improvements in child health care. Ms. Lazarus has been involved in advocacy for health coverage for all children for more than 35 years.

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