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Report: Fewer Uninsured Children in FL

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Photo: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz is among the sponsors of a KidCare Immigrant Bill in the upcoming Florida legislative session. It would eliminate the five-year waiting period for some immigrant children to obtain health insurance. Courtesy Florida CHAIN.
Photo: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz is among the sponsors of a KidCare Immigrant Bill in the upcoming Florida legislative session. It would eliminate the five-year waiting period for some immigrant children to obtain health insurance. Courtesy Florida CHAIN.
 By Stephanie Carroll CarsonContact
November 20, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - In the ongoing saga about health insurance, there is a glimmer of hope in Florida. The number of uninsured children in the state is heading in the right direction - down 14 percent since 2010.

That figure is found in a report released today by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. Medicaid coverage for children and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) both have made a big difference, said Leah Barber-Heinz, chief executive of Florida CHAIN, a group working to improve access to health care.

"That's good news, and we're continuing to see those numbers go down," she said. "We still have an estimated 436,000 children going without health insurance, so there's definitely room for improvement."

Florida still has a higher rate of uninsured children than the national average. A national poll released with the report indicates almost nine out of 10 people believe all children in their state should have health coverage.

In Florida, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, the Latino community has the highest percentage of uninsured children, at about 38 percent. She said language barriers for parents and the need for outreach help explain the disproportionate number lacking coverage.

"We may be seeing children who are in mixed-status families, where the children are citizens but their parents may be immigrants," she said. "We may have families, if there are immigrant parents, who are very reluctant to engage with the government and, indeed, fearful to engage with the government."

Another barrier in Florida is that lawfully residing immigrant children have to wait five years before they are eligible for coverage. Barber-Heinz said she and others are hoping to change that in the next legislative session.

"When children are not healthy and they're not able to go to school ready to learn," she said, "everybody ends up absorbing costs of an unhealthy society."

Florida also is one of six states that has yet to decide whether to opt into the Medicaid expansion provided under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Georgetown report, providing coverage to lower-income parents makes it more likely that their children's health needs are being met as well.

The report and poll are online at ccf.georgetown.edu.

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