Why Health Care Matters in Savannah

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This is a guest post by Suzanne Donovan, Executive Director of Step Up Savannah. Savannah is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

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More than 5,000 kids 18 and younger are uninsured in Chatham County, putting them at risk for preventable diseases, burdening families with financial distress resulting from medical bills and increasing costs to our hospitals (and taxpayers) for emergency room visits for routine care. A new initiative aims to change that.

A National League of Cities grant, just announced, will fund the Mayor’s Campaign for Healthy Children and Families to reduce by 50% the number of uninsured children in our county. Savannah is one of eight cities in the U.S. awarded these innovative grants that set 18-month goals to boost the numbers of eligible children and families enrolled in Medicaid and PeachCare.

Step Up, with its partner, Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, the county’s healthcare collaborative, and City of Savannah staff produced the successful proposal. Key city departments such as the Public Information Office, the Citizen’s Office 311 service, plus enrollment and outreach partners will work hand-in-hand with community-based organizations, health clinics and hospitals to accomplish the ambitious enrollment gains.

Strategic points where kids and parents regularly intersect such as schools, health clinics, even public events will have information and direct families to trained enrollment assistance staff.

Georgia lags behind other states in terms of health insurance coverage for children and families. Eleven percent of Georgia’s children are uninsured, representing 4.3% of the nation’s total population of uninsured children. Additionally, 23% of Georgia adults with dependent children are uninsured; 78% of Georgia’s uninsured children are eligible, but not enrolled in Medicaid or PeachCare.

Access to health insurance is a critical piece of the poverty puzzle — medical debt causes undue hardship, particularly on low-income families, and in most cases is avoidable by signing up for existing public health insurance programs. The National League of Cities grant funds raise the possibility of fostering real change and getting more eligible families signed up in our county.

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About the author: Suzanne Donovan is executive director of Step Up Savannah, the City of Savannah’s poverty reduction initiative.