BANGOR, Maine — As Maine children and their families settle into the back-to-school routine, state officials are hoping parents will enroll their youngsters in the health care coverage they need to stay healthy and succeed in school. About 19,000 Maine children and teens are uninsured, and 11,000 of them are eligible for comprehensive coverage through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

At press conferences in Bangor and Portland on Thursday, the nonprofit Maine Children’s Alliance announced a new partnership with KeyBank aimed at making it a little bit easier to get that coverage.

“Children with health insurance are more likely to have access to quality health care,” including routine immunizations, well-child checkups, and treatment for illnesses and injuries, said Elinor Goldberg, director of the Maine Children’s Alliance, speaking at the Bangor media conference.

The partnership with KeyBank will place MaineCare applications in each of the bank’s 62 locations statewide, in addition to local offices of the Department of Health and Human Services and other public locations.

Cheri Doak, a senior vice president for KeyBank, said promoting good health care for Maine children not only results in healthier kids, but also improves academic performance.

“Helping children creates a stronger work force and encourages self-sufficiency,” Doak said. “Ensuring the next generation receives the health care they need should be a top priority for everyone in Maine.”

Doak said placing applications in branch offices and training bank personnel to assist parents with the application process would make it more convenient to sign up children for the coverage they’re entitled to.

Trish Riley, director of Gov. John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, who spoke at the event, encouraged eligible families to take advantage of MaineCare coverage, especially in view of economic hard times ahead this winter because of the high cost of heating fuel. MaineCare also provides coverage for parents of enrolled youngsters, she noted.

Pediatric dentist and children’s public health advocate Jonathan Shenkin of Bangor said even common childhood illnesses can have serious consequences if they’re not treated promptly and appropriately. “Every child needs access to health care,” Shenkin said, adding that parents “should not have to worry whether they can pay medical bills and still put food on the table.”

In addition to managing the regular Medicaid program in Maine, MaineCare also administers the State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, which provides coverage for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still cannot afford private insurance coverage. Medicaid covers children whose families earn up to 133 percent federal poverty level, or FPL, or about $28,000 for a family of four. Children from families with between 134 percent FPL and 200 percent FPL —that’s about $42,000 for a family of four — are eligible for coverage under S-CHIP.

S-CHIP first was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1997, with Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe one of the primary sponsors. Reauthorization and expansion in 2007 were overwhelmingly supported by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, but encountered opposition and a threatened veto by President Bush, resulting in only temporary reauthorization through March 2009. S-CHIP is expected to be a priority issue on the agenda of the new Congress.

Gail Kelly, Snowe’s representative in Bangor, read a statement at Thursday’s press conference indicating the senator’s continued strong support for the initiative.

More information about MaineCare and S-CHIP is available on the Web site of the Maine Children’s Alliance:

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at