Note: As of July 1, 2007, Covering Kids & Families has closed. For current information about the uninsured in America, please visit RWJF Coverage.
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You and your children may be eligible for low-cost or free health insurance! Programs exist in every state and the District of Columbia. For information about low-cost and free children's health coverage, visit For information on coverage for adults, read the Guides to Finding Health Insurance Coverage in Your State from Cover the Uninsured.

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Working with the Media
Message Strategy: Covering Kids Guiding Principles

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Updated: 6.1.06      Printable Printable version

Covering Kids & Families developed four guiding principles, based upon its research findings, to help make sure that the campaign reaches its objectives. These guiding principles are listed below, along with some specific tips on how to translate them into messages to be used in advertising, campaign materials, and media outreach.

1. Communications must show how enrolling children in low-cost or free health care coverage programs will make parents feel like they are being good parents who make smart decisions that will reduce stress and bring them peace of mind.

  • Avoid using the term "health insurance" when describing these programs. Parents respond to that term by considering the cost and not the benefits of having their children insured. Therefore, parents are less likely to pay attention to "insurance" messages because they perceive insurance as too expensive. However, you can use the term "health insurance" when describing something that uninsured people lack. For example, "If your kids don't have health insurance, call [TOLL-FREE HOTLINE]."
  • Use the term "low-cost or free health care coverage" because it connects the desire to save money with the desire to ensure that children get the care they need to stay healthy. Both of these benefits help reduce the stress parents feel about caring for their children and protecting their pocketbooks. The words "low-cost" and "free" should always be used together. Parents told Covering Kids & Families researchers that the word "free" on its own is not credible, but "low-cost" is believable. It is also more effective if you lead with "low-cost."
  • Use imagery and language to acknowledge the stress parents feel when they face the difficult choices that are part of being a parent. Imagery and language should also be used to demonstrate how Medicaid and SCHIP can help relieve some of that stress.
  • Don't use the term "peace of mind" in your messages. Instead, show how parents will gain peace of mind with their children enrolled in these programs. In short, show, don't tell, and let the parents themselves conclude that they will feel peace of mind.

2. Generate familiarity with Medicaid and SCHIP among the target audience. Awareness of SCHIP has increased, but understanding of specifics lags behind.

  • To increase the number of calls to toll-free information lines by parents, work with your state agency to get an easy-to-remember toll-free number using letters instead of numbers. Or, encourage them to use the national 1(877) KIDS-NOW number.
  • Repeat the phone number in television, radio and oral communications to increase the number recall. In print, make sure the phone number is prominently listed.
  • Show images of teenagers to convey the notion that the program is also for older children. Most parents assume that Medicaid and SCHIP are for young children.
  • Share the Spokesperson Talking Points on page five with people who talk to the media about Medicaid and SCHIP. This will help ensure that effective messages are used consistently.
  • Conduct outreach efforts in places where parents look for important information. Some locations that rate high as information sources among parents with uninsured children are clinics, doctor's offices, pharmacies, churches, day care centers, and worksites.

3. Help eligible families understand that these programs apply to them. One of the biggest hurdles for enrollment efforts to overcome is the fact that many families assume incorrectly that they are ineligible.

  • Present typical working family scenarios that parents can relate to, such as the tough choices that parents face, the care parents must provide for their children and the concern they have about bills.
  • Use images of working-class neighborhoods, where many eligible families live.
  • Emphasize working families with images and phrases like "even if you're working" to overcome the mistaken impression that to benefit from these programs one must be either unemployed or enrolled in a government financial assistance program.
  • Include a specific, credible, annual income figure so that parents will stop and think, "maybe my kids are eligible." Use the phrase "even families earning up to [$XX,XXX] a year or more" to make certain that parents understand that these programs could benefit their families.
  • Identify and use real families enrolled in low-cost or free health coverage programs to communicate your message. Hearing about the experiences of real families can help convince parents that their children may be eligible for the program and that it offers valuable services.
  • Try to reach friends, families and colleagues of eligible families, because they are trusted messengers with whom parents discuss these issues.

4. Establish Medicaid and SCHIP as valued products or services.

  • Talk about specific services that the program covers, such as prescriptions, immunizations, dental care and emergency care, so that parents understand the program's value.
  • If applicable in your state, emphasize the fact that parents will get a health care card for their children, just as they would from a private health insurer. Parents perceive having a card as valuable.
  • Use trusted medical professionals, especially doctors, to talk about the quality of care children can receive through Medicaid and SCHIP. Doctors are particularly credible spokespersons and their credentials help to legitimize the program. Nurses are also effective spokespersons, but are not as credible as doctors.
  • If applicable in your state, emphasize the simplified enrollment process and the ability to apply for Medicaid and SCHIP over the phone.

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