Gainesville Sun: Uninsured children a crisis in Florida

Oct 14, 2009

The Gainesville Sun published this editorial on October 14, 2009

Divisive as the ongoing debate over how to reform the American health care system, there should be little argument that providing medical care to all our youngest and most vulnerable citizens must be a priority.

So it was disturbing to learn the results of a new report released last week by The Commonwealth Fund that ranked Florida 50th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of children who are uninsured. According the survey, nearly 19 percent of Florida children have no health insurance – compared with a national median of 8.6 percent – and the number is growing. And with the economic landscape worsening, the study’s authors and public health experts agree the situation is likely to worsen.

It isn’t that Florida is unaware of its large numbers of children who are uninsured. In 1997, the Legislature enacted the Florida KidCare program aimed at economically disadvantaged children under age 19. Over the years, the program has reached hundreds of thousands of families and today serves an estimated 1.7 million children.

But as The Commonwealth Fund report indicates, there is still plenty of work to be done.

After widespread public criticism over the large number of uninsured children that KidCare was failing to reach despite adequate funding, Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees Kid Care, to launch an aggressive outreach campaign and also simplify the once-cumbersome application process. Just two months ago, some of Florida’s top agency officials, health care associations and community service groups gathered in the Capitol rotunda in Tallahassee to launch or redouble those efforts as part of a KidCare back-to-school initiative. That effort resulted in tens of thousands of new children being signed up, but hundreds of thousands still remain uninsured.

To the state’s credit, it is trying to reach these children and, importantly, their parents – through the schools, health departments, Workforce Connection offices, and mailings to WIC, food stamp and unemployment recipients. These are worthy avenues.

Nonetheless, since 2007 – the year upon which The Commonwealth Fund report based its rankings – Florida only has added 200,000 children to its KidCare rolls, meaning there still is a significant number of Florida youngsters without insurance coverage and, in turn, basic health care, despite available funding.

Parents of the uninsured children certainly are to blame for failing to get their child enrolled in this compassionate program that enjoys bipartisan support in the Legislature. Yet, it takes a village, and if the state’s outreach efforts are not reaching hundreds of thousands of qualified youngsters and their parents, then more needs to be done. These are, after all, children, and we all have responsibility to ensure they have every opportunity to be safe and healthy.

Florida ranks near the bottom in too many categories affecting our children – child abuse deaths, prenatal care, violent crime, education spending and graduation rates, for starters – so we cannot say we are surprised that our state is 50th in the number of children who are uninsured. It is just one more indictment of a state that time and again takes its children’s well-being too lightly. That is a shame we all share and one we should all lament.