Florida second in nation in rate of uninsured children
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10/30/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

Florida has the second highest rate of uninsured children in the nation. According to a new report, nearly one out of every five children in the state is uninsured and the rate continues to increase.

“In Florida there are 797,000 children who are uninsured,” said Ron Pollack, the Executive Director of Families USA, a national nonprofit and nonpartisan organization advocating for high-quality affordable health care for all Americans. Their report, called “Left Behind: Florida’s Uninsured Children,” was released this month. Texas is the only state that has a higher percentage of uninsured children than Florida’s 18.8%, Pollack said.

“In Florida, the number of uninsured children grew by 78,000 children from the period 2003 to 2005, an increase of 10.9%.”

In a conference call Thursday, Pollack said that Florida is the state with the third largest number of uninsured children, which are defined in the study as age 18 and younger. Most of those uninsured children come from working families.

“In Florida, 87.8% of the uninsured children are in families where at least one parent works and 71.4% of the uninsured children in Florida have at least one parent who works full-time year-round.”

The report also found that most uninsured children come from families that are below twice the poverty line, Pollack said. For a family of three, that is an annual income of 35,200 dollars, which would likely make them eligible for the state’s KidCare insurance program.

“In Florida, more than three out of five of the uninsured children, 60.7%, are in families that are such low income.”

Greg Mellowe is Policy Director of Florida CHAIN -- Community Health Action Information Network, a statewide organization working for Floridians who are underinsured or rely on the government health care safety net.

“Given the service and tourist sector dependence of our economy – those jobs are the backbone of our state’s economy, that it’s almost a given that even when parents are covered through their jobs, the low wages and skyrocketing health insurance premiums, combine to put family coverage out of reach. With the recent economic crisis and with the huge number of homes in Florida that are in arrears or foreclosures, in particular, families have consistently told us that [health] coverage is often the first thing to go. And sadly there’s always the emergency room or maybe the free clinic if there’s access at all.”

Mellowe said it’s “unacceptable” that “Florida is home to less than 5% of the children nationwide who are enrolled in Medicaid” and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, “but more than 9% of the nation’s uninsured kids are Floridians.” Mellowe suggested updating the twenty-year-old cigarette tax rate in order to use the proceeds to increase access to health care.

“We’ve made tremendous strides in Florida, I think, in terms of ensuring that our kids have health coverage, but this report just emphasizes what a long way we have to go. We can point to significant progress that we’ve made with almost a million Florida kids that will have coverage through KidCare, which is what Florida calls its combined Medicaid and CHIP programs. But we have greater cause for concern then ever, I think that’s what’s highlighted in this report, because another 800 thousand kids are uninsured.”

Last year Congress attempted to reauthorize CHIP and to increase its funding in order to add coverage for four million children. But despite strong bipartisan support, they were not able to expand it because of a veto from President Bush. Families USA’s Ron Pollack is disappointed that Congress was only able to temporarily extend the program until March 31st of 2009.

“In the Senate there were 68 votes in favor of this legislation. In the House of Representatives there were 275 votes in favor of this legislation. So even though the legislation was passed by the Congress by overwhelming margins, President Bush vetoed that legislation. And in the House, even though there was an overwhelming majority, they could not obtain a two-thirds majority [to overturn Bush’s veto].”

Pollack thinks that before it expires, Congress should expand CHIP to cover half of the country’s uninsured children. In addition, Congress is contemplating a second economic stimulus package and Pollack is optimistic that part of it could improve the health care situation for uninsured children.

“One of the provisions that’s in that stimulus package that’s likely to be voted on shortly after the elections, will be additional matching funds to the states for their Children’s Health Insurance Program and for their Medicaid program. This is critically important because at a time when there is growing need to provide public coverage for children because the economy is throwing some of their parents out of work.”

Pollack said those two pieces of legislation would be synergistic.

State-specific reports are being issued through November and a national report will be released on November 25th.

Families USA

report: Left Behind: Florida’s Uninsured Children

Florida CHAIN

Physicians for a National Health Program

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