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Reaching Your Target Audience
Communicating to Parents about Income Eligibility

Updated: 6.1.06      Printable Printable version

Why communicate income eligibility information to parents?

Covering Kids & Families research indicates that the biggest hurdle to enrollment is that some parents, especially working parents, mistakenly believe their children are not eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP. However, if they knew their children qualified for coverage, they would likely apply. The following strategies are proven effective at overcoming this misperception:

Present typical working family scenarios that parents can relate to - the difficult choices that parents face, the care parents must provide for their children, the concern they have about bills.
Use images of working-class neighborhoods, where many eligible families live, in appropriate outreach materials.
Emphasize working families with explicit 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 welfare.
Include an accurate, state-specific, annual income figure for a family of four in outreach materials and advertising so that parents will stop and think, "Maybe my kids are eligible."

Including an income eligibility figure in your outreach materials is one of the most powerful ways to convince eligible families that their children may in fact be eligible. However, the language used to describe income eligibility needs to be tightly constructed to avoid falsely raising the hopes of and attracting calls from parents of ineligible children. In addition, the figure needs to be presented in a concise and easy-to-understand manner so that you do not confuse potential beneficiaries.

What message should you use when communicating eligibility information?

Covering Kids & Families has conducted extensive research to identify the most effective language and recommends using the phrase: "even families earning up to [$XX,XXX] a year or more." This phrase conveys to parents that they too may be eligible without misleading them into believing that they are in fact eligible. Interestingly, the phrase "and more" helps families understand that the scale is likely to be dependent upon the size of the family.

How do you determine what eligibility figure should be communicated in your state?

Following are step-by-step instructions to help you determine the income eligibility figure to publicize in your state.

1. Identify the percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) for a family of four to qualify in your state. If your SCHIP program is capped, use your state's Medicaid eligibility figure for children ages 6 and above.
2. Translate that percentage into an annual income figure using the 2005 Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines
3. Round the yearly income figure down to the nearest thousand.
4. Insert the rounded income figure in the phrase: "even families earning up to [$XX,XXX] a year or more."
5. As you know, eligibility levels vary by state, so you must consult your state's most recent income eligibility guidelines.

For example:

1. Your state may require a family of four to earn no more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for SCHIP.
2. This translates into an annual income of $35,798 for a family of four.
3. Round $35,798 down to the nearest thousand.
4. You should use the phrase: "even families earning up to $35,000 a year or more" in your outreach communications.

Keep in mind that although these families' incomes are at or below the federal poverty level, many still believe they earn too much for their children to qualify for the program. Publicizing the annual income figure helps to convey to eligible families that these programs apply to them.

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