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CoverKids is a lifeline worth preserving

Originally published in The Tennessean, January 2018

My mother still keeps a photograph from the day we launched CoverKids in April 2007. In it, I’m standing with then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, my son and a young girl who was the first enrollee in our program.

Nine months earlier, I’d been working as the deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health when I was asked to lead the creation of a new program to expand access to health coverage for children.

I spent my first week on the road, helping convince Tennessee physicians to support our efforts. We hadn’t even submitted our formal proposal to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services yet. But sooner than seemed possible, we were able to celebrate a new day for Tennessee children.

Launching CoverKids remains one of the proudest moments of my career.

We immediately began to see how our work was making a difference in children’s lives.

I remember a set of twins, born prematurely, who were in desperate need of care. They too were among our first enrollees, and within their first month of life, CoverKids became a lifeline.

Nearly 11 years later, the young girl I stood with is now in college, pursuing her own dreams of higher education and career success. At the same time, CoverKids is at risk of losing its federal funding – meaning children across the state may lose access to their health coverage.

Studies consistently show that health care and educational attainment are closely linked, and it’s easy to understand why.  If children have a hard time getting the proper immunizations, a flu shot or regular check-ups, how can we expect them to reach their potential in the classroom?

While TennCare itself is critical for many of our state’s most vulnerable residents, CoverKids plays a unique role to fill the gap for kids whose parents earn a little more but still don’t have access to employer-based coverage and can’t afford an individual policy.

You might be surprised at how many hardworking people fall into that category. Many of them are self-employed as construction workers, custodians, designers or musicians. They might be your neighbors, or the parents of your children’s classmates. 

Children with CoverKids have access to free preventive health care  – from immunizations and well-child visits to flu shots – as well as more affordable hospital, dental and even behavioral health care services.

CoverKids also supports pregnant women, giving their children the pre- and post-natal care they need for a healthy start in life.

Today, the program serves 76,000 Tennesseans. 

And in my role at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, I continue to see how CoverKids is bringing better health to women and children around our state.

Compared to the previous year, in 2017 our outreach teams helped:

  • Schedule more well-child visits for infants, children and adolescents
  • Ensure more young children and adolescents got their routine vaccinations
  • Improve the number of kids with asthma who followed their prescribed medication regimens

Reflecting on this success, I also remember when our CoverKids team went in search of a partner to help us launch the program. We issued a request for proposals, open to all the major health insurers operating in Tennessee.

Only BlueCross answered the call.

In 2006, BlueCross leaders saw supporting CoverKids as a natural extension of the company’s mission to provide peace of mind to Tennesseans and to help expand access to quality, affordable health care.

We believe that’s as true as ever in 2018, and we hope to see CoverKids continue serving the women and children of Tennessee for years to come.

About Dr. Andrea Willis, SVP, Chief Medical Officer

A photo of the authorDr. Willis ensures that all clinical initiatives and quality endeavors support the needs of our members, and contribute to the overall health and well-being of our communities.

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