Government Assistance

Examining the dozens of resources that are available through the U. S. Government alone is enough to leave one’s head spinning. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has tried to streamline the information overload through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (formerly the Health Care Financing Administration). This group oversees not only Medicare and Medicaid, but also children’s insurance through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Medicaid, which is designed to cover the health costs of those whose income falls beneath a certain minimum number, can be helpful for some people. But each state determines how Medicaid is distributed and individual levels of eligibility. For someone who is struggling but not quite poor enough to receive Medicaid, the program offers little consolation.

The SCHIP offers more leeway, trying to redress the problem of what to do when a family makes too much money for Medicaid but not enough to pay for private coverage. In fiscal year 2000, some 3.3 million children were covered by SCHIP. Again, each state administers its own program, with oversight by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some states will do a better job than others, and no system is foolproof, but at least SCHIP begins to address what for many families is the most unnerving drawback to lack of coverage: how to pay for their children’s needs.

One of the problems that Medicaid, SCHIP, and other programs to help the uninsured pay for medical expenses is that there is a surprising lack of knowledge of these programs among the very people they are designed to serve. In 1999, according to EBRI, only 22 percent of uninsured Americans were aware of low-cost or free insurance or medical programs for uninsured adults and children in their state. That number rose to 37 percent in 2000 and dropped to 31 percent in 2001. Part of the reason for the rise and then drop is that the economy began a downward shift in 2000; more people lost their jobs and more companies cut back on health care offerings, which left more people uninsured.


Inside Government Assistance