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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, April 20, 2017 1:00 am

Insurer offers grants to help with kids' bills

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

As anyone who's ever had a medical issue knows, having insurance doesn't mean you don't have to pay bills.

Deductibles, co-pays and items that are not covered by insurance can leave people unexpectedly facing big bills.

It can happen to anyone, including children.

UnitedHealthcare, though, is trying to tout one program it has designed for children. Called the UnitedHealthcare Children's Foundation, it actually gives grants to families with children 16 or younger to help pay for treatment, services or equipment that aren't covered or are only partly covered by their commercial health insurance plan.

Families that qualify can get up to $5,000 per grant, with a maximum lifetime payout of $10,000 per child.

The foundation, which was established in 2007, has given out about 13,000 grants so far worth a total of $35 million.

Since 2013, the foundation has given out 690 grants in Indiana.

Though it's been around for 10 years, a lot of people haven't heard of it. That's why the foundation periodically has a media push to try to inform the public.

Qualifying is pretty simple. Recipients must have a commercial insurance policy, not Medicaid. There are income limitations, but they are generous. Income limits for a family of two is $50,000; $75,000 for a family of three; $100,000 for a family of four; and $125,000 for a family of five or more.

The grants are for medical expenses that families have incurred within 60 days of the time they apply for a grant. An application is available at www.UHCCF.org.

Families who have children who face significant medical issues frequently have little to no lead time when medical expenses come up, said Tony Marusic of UnitedHealthcare. Emergency room expenses are one example of sudden, unexpected costs.

The foundation makes money by, among other things, selling joke books on its website. Children submit jokes and the foundation publishes them in book form.

The foundation is also staffed mostly by UnitedHealthcare volunteers, so it has low administrative costs, Marusic said. About 95 percent of all the money that comes into the foundation is used for grants.

The foundation's goal is to have provided 20,000 grants by 2020.

“We try to make sure the media is aware of the foundation” and that they write about it once in a while, Marusic said.

“If one family hears about this, our mission is accomplished,” Marusic said.

Marusic said he isn't aware of any other insurance companies that have a program like this.

The grants have been used to help pay for treatments for cancer, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, autism, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. They have paid for physical and speech therapy, counseling, wheelchairs, glasses and hearing aids.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.