Immigrant children may be less likely to get Florida KidCare under new rules

10/18/11 Josh Holton
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A recent federal law is helping more undocumented immigrant children get access to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. When the CHIP Reauthorization Act renewed the program in 2009, 20 states did away with a rule that required immigrant children to wait 5 years after entering the US before they would be eligible for KidCare.

Florida Healthy Kids Corporation is Florida KidCare’s partner, and Executive Director Rich Robleto said last year they added about 7% fewer children than in the past. States were given the option whether or not they wanted to utilize several new rules that allowed for exceptions in the citizenship requirement for the program, but Robleto said Florida chose not to adopt five of the new options.

“Florida law still has the original language of ‘a need to wait five years,’ so Florida hasn’t taken advantage of that new component that was provided by CHIP…don’t get me wrong, that the CHIP Reauthorization Act was in anyway a negative act; it did a lot of good things. But the one piece of it that did require us to go out and get documentation on citizenship did cause some problems in terms of renewal.”

Robleto regretted his recent comments to Kaiser Health News that the CHIP program is “treading water,” and he touts the 2,000 new children added last year as sizable growth to offset 10,000 kids who he says dropped off due to the documentation requirement. Medical anthropologist Alayne Unterberger works for the Florida Institute for Community Studies.

“There’s a number of children who fall through the cracks, who…their immigration status might not allow them to qualify for Kidcare. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

The Healthy Start Coalition helps connect pregnant families with proper care. Their health counselor, Viviam Sifontes said that’s because,

“Well it’s impossible for them to get insurance. They will not qualify for Medicaid. They will qualify for Florida Kidcare, but they will be billed for the highest premium, which is now almost $200 a month per child. So most of them don’t get it.”

Jodi Ray works with Florida Covering Kids and Families at the University of South Florida. They provide assistance for families going through the Medicaid or KidCare renewal process, and she said the law is adversely affecting not just undocumented families, but even low income US citizens who may have had chaotic events in their lives.

“If you’re looking at families that are stressed for money, for being able to make ends meet, to keep the electric bill on and the water on, and buy groceries, and figure out how they’re going to get this coverage for their child. If they don’t have a copy of their birth certificate, sure they can call the hospital or vital statistics department in another state, and they can pay for a copy. But you’re talking about another expense that…maybe they just don’t even have the finances to support an additional added expense.”

As many as 8,000 children are transferring to Medicaid since their parent’s income may have dropped. Despite the hurdles that many Floridians have to navigate in order to get proper care, Rich Robleto said the law will mainly affect those seeking renewal. He said he’s optimistic about the growth of the KidCare program, and that the state will finish checking new applicants for their proof of citizenship by next month.

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