By Carol Gentry
10/23/12 © Health News Florida
Florida is making great progress in getting children enrolled in health insurance, according to a report released Tuesday. But the authors warn the trend could stall if the state rejects Medicaid expansion.
Between 2009 and 2011, despite the bad economy, Florida was able to reduce the number of uninsured children by 125,000, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families.
The drop was almost 3 percentage points, which drew accolades for Florida in the report.
“They are heading in the right direction, and more children are getting health coverage so that is good news,” co-author Joan Alker told Health News Florida. “But it is easier for them to show progress because they have so many uninsured kids to start with.”
At the beginning of the two-year study, Florida had over 600,000 uninsured kids, according to the report. At the end, the total stood at 475,112.
They represented 11.9 percent of the state’s children, down from 14.8.
Still stuck near the bottom
But because of progress in other states, Florida still has one of the worst spots on the list of 50 states plus D.C. -- 48th in the percentage of children uncovered, 49th in numbers.
Only two states have more uninsured children: California, with about 745,000, and Texas, with about 916,000. Like Florida, both have gotten significant numbers of children enrolled since 2009, when the Obama administration started offering bonuses to states that succeeded.
The state with the lowest rate of uninsured children, 1.7 percent, is Massachusetts, which has a mandate that all citizens be covered – a state law similar to the Affordable Care Act at the federal level. Other states below 3 percent are Vermont and Connecticut.
Jodi Ray, director of the Florida Covering Kids and Families project at the University of South Florida, said the report shows “we’re working very hard on this issue.
“I’m glad to see we’re still making progress,” she said, but added, “Obviously, it’s frustrating to still be ranked (so low).”
The key to improvement, Ray said, is finding “hard-to-reach populations,” such as children who don’t speak English.
Most of Florida’s uninsured kids qualify for Medicaid, for families with low incomes, or Healthy Kids, with a sliding-scale subsidy that allows working families to buy in.
Florida didn't go for bonuses
States have made strides in getting kids enrolled by upgrading computer systems, streamlining enrollment, working with school districts, and so on. Florida has not competed for the federal bonuses; if it had, according to one estimate, the state could have gained some $200 million for the continuing effort, as Health News Florida reported in May.
Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014 is expected to reduce the number of uninsured among both children and adults by making subsidized health coverage available in an online shopping site called an exchange.
The greatest impact will occur in states that accept federal funds to expand the Medicaid program, the report said. But Gov. Rick Scott has said he doesn’t want Florida to expand Medicaid; it is unclear what the Legislature will do.
Child-advocacy groups, working together under the banner of KidsWell Florida, are expected to push for the expanded coverage.
--Health News Florida, journalism for a healthy state, is a service of WUSF Public Media. Question? Comment? Contact Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 (desk) or 727-410-3266 (cell), or at Carol.Gentry@HealthNewsFlorida.org.