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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Oct. 31, 201212:00 PM EST

Advocates make KidCare suggestions

by: Margie Menzel

With a new crop of lawmakers soon to arrive in Tallahassee, advocates released a plan Tuesday to expand health care coverage to the hundreds of thousands of Florida children who don’t have it.

The “KidCare Toolbox” includes a history of the program and an explanation of gaps in coverage that advocates have long sought to plug, along with policy tools for fixing them.

“None of this effort is really new,” said Karen Woodall of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. “This is just putting it together all in one place and including families who are impacted, along with advocates and policymakers.”

Last year, just three states had a higher percentage of uninsured children than Florida. In 2011, about 579,000 children statewide were uninsured, including 358,000 low-income children who were qualified for coverage.

Working with private carriers, KidCare cut the percentage of low-income, uninsured children to about 19 percent last year, the lowest since the state began keeping track. But that was higher than the national 9.7 percent rate.

So children’s advocates are offering policy proposals they say would help solve problems that make it harder for families to enroll or stay enrolled.

KidCare has four main components — Medicaid for children, Florida Healthy Kids, MediKids and Children’s Medical Services — administered by multiple state agencies. That makes it easy for children to fall through the cracks if their ages or family incomes change.

“That transfer does not happen smoothly,” said Diana Ragbeer of The Children’s Trust. “We have been struggling with that disjointedness for years.”

On Tuesday, the advocates outlined proposed policy changes such as making eligibility continuous for 12 months, which would allow children to stay enrolled that long.

Also, the changes would make eligibility presumptive, granting coverage to children who qualify but don’t have their paperwork in hand yet.

“We’re using the theme of tools that, if used, would chip away at the number of uninsured kids in the state,” said Woodall, a longtime member of KidCare’s advisory council. “It’s a renewed commitment to pulling in that quality health care and filling in the gaps.”

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, said in an email that the Niceville Republican “has and will continue to be supportive of KidCare,’’ though he has not been approached about the initiative announced Tuesday.

Woodall and Ragbeer said the advocates soon will reach out to legislative leaders.

“For the first time in four years, we’re no longer looking at a (budget) deficit situation,” said Ragbeer. And given state leaders’ emphasis on education, she said, health care is a vital support. “Sick children can’t learn.”

“We think there’s a bipartisan consensus,” agreed Woodall. “We believe that if given the tools to move forward, we’ll be able to make some progress in this Legislature.”

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