Nebraska program provides health care for state's most vulnerable children

Stephanie Taylor Christensen

Health care reform strives to ensure that children under age 19 cannot be denied health insurance coverage. However, guaranteed coverage does not always mean affordable coverage.

According to a February 2011 report by the Commonwealth Fund, it is in the best interest of all states to provide affordable health care for children. Often, things that children have no control over (like where they live and how much their parents earn) are the most influential factors in determining whether they get adequate health care. Yet proper medical care in childhood lays the foundation for wellness into adulthood, according to the Commonwealth report. Not having access to good health care can prevent a child from participating fully in school -- and from becoming a productive member of society.

Some states have innovative programs that address this lack of equality. Nebraska, for example, is considered one of the best states for children's health, ranking in the top half for factors like access and affordability, prevention and treatment, and potential to lead healthy lives, according to the Commonwealth study. One particular program for children without insurance in Nebraska, called OneWorld Community Health Centers, is seeking to better the system for children -- and their parents.

OneWorld is one of 1,200 federally qualified community health centers designed to serve populations that are deemed medically underserved by the federal government, according to OneWorld's website. This includes children whose parents who cannot afford health insurance for their families, but who make too much to qualify for Medicaid. The center has an open-door policy, providing care regardless of ability to pay or health insurance coverage.

OneWorld provides treatment for standard medical services, including prenatal care, optometry, dentistry and urgent care. Child and adolescent services like immunizations and developmental screenings, which are critical in effective treatment and management of many childhood health concerns, are a key area of focus.

Payment is due at the time of service regardless of income level. It can be made by cash or credit card, or through private health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.

Families without insurance and who have limited incomes are charged fees based on a sliding payment schedule. Fee amounts are based on income, household size and where a patient or family falls within the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a family deemed "Level A" (below or at the federal poverty level) is required to pay $30 for medical expenses, 60 percent for dental care and $50 for urgent care service. Patients must provide proof of income for one month to qualify for the sliding scale.