Published Online: October 1, 1997

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Five sports-loving and civic-minded Massachusetts teenagers are canvassing high school coaches in their state in an effort to connect some of their 125,000 uninsured peers to health coverage.

The Coaches Campaign, a program started in recent months by the teenagers through the Boston-based advocacy group Health Care for All, will enlist high school coaches and athletes to help spread the word about new health-care programs available to Massachusetts youths. These include a $227.6 million expansion of the state Medicaid program announced by acting Gov. Paul Cellucci in July.

Beginning this winter, the athletes will travel from school to school holding workshops, performing skits, and giving coaches and athletic directors fact-filled pamphlets and posters.

"Coaches and athletes are a great target group," said campaign participant Molly Kay Marra, a sophomore at Boston Latin School and an avid soccer player. Because coaches require their players to undergo physical exams, she said, the organizers figured that the medical forms coaches pass out would be "a great place for them to slap on a little brochure" explaining the assortment of free and subsidized health programs available in Massachusetts.

Health Care for All dreamed up the campaign last year when, while researching the state's Medicaid program, the group learned that many adolescents were deciding not to play competitive sports because they lacked health coverage and feared that, if injured, the high costs of medical care would burden their families, said Allison Staton, a policy associate at the advocacy organization.

Since the passage of the state's new Health Care Access Law, which expands eligibility for Medicaid to all boys and girls 18 and younger in families with incomes up to double the poverty level, more than two-thirds of the state's children will qualify for free health coverage.

Still, Ms. Staton said, a major challenge lies ahead in connecting qualified young people to the new program. Athletic coaches, she said, seem an obvious--and untapped--resource.

"Teenagers are a difficult group to reach," she said. "We wanted to bring in a new group to help with outreach."

Jerry Knight, the athletic director for Somerville High School outside Boston, said health coverage is "a real problem" for many of his school's students.

"Any resource that will help students take advantage of what's out there is a good thing."

--KERRY A. WHITE kwhite@epe.org

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