Florida Expands Medicaid/CHIP Access for Immigrant Kids

(Photo: Amanda Mills, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Amanda Mills, Creative Commons)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed the state budget, and one of the results is that now thousands of children of legal immigrants will be taking a step closer to receiving subsidized health insurance by this summer.

Until now, children of legal immigrants were technically eligible for the state's KidCare, but the wait to actually receive the benefits of the insurance was five years. By signing the budget, a bill (HB 5101) that accompanied it was also passed and allows the five-year wait to be eliminated, write Margie Menzel and Tom Urban of the News Service of Florida and WFOR-TV.

Over 17,000 Florida children under the age of 19 can receive coverage beginning July 1, which is when the new budget will be executed. If the kids qualify, they will be covered by the federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which includes KidCare and Medicaid. Families that have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but too little to pay for private insurance can now receive coverage from KidCare.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration reports that 2,077 children living in legal immigrant families applied for KidCare within the last year but were still inside the waiting period. Now they will be entitled to coverage with a premium of between $15 and $20 per month.

Also, 15,097 children living in families that earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level (approximately $33,534 for a four-person family) could start receiving Medicaid.

"What it means is that there are a lot of kids that, probably, their life is going to be saved because they are going to be able to be taken care of," said Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help Inc., an advocacy group for migrant farm workers. "These are Americans. There is no reason why we should have unhealthy children in this country today."

Expanding health insurance to legal residents who are children has been a hotly-debated topic in Florida since 2009 when Congress passed the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. Since then, bills have been proposed and even were supported by the Senate, but not in the House until Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) called for the bill to be passed in January.

Another boost to the bill was the fact that the federal government would pay about $28 million to fund the measure, meaning the state's cost would be minimal.

Many parents do not know that their uninsured minority children are eligible for Medicaid or any other assistance from the government, according to a new study. The research, says Sharon Gloger of the Examiner, was published March 22 in the International Journal for Equity in Health.

The study pointed out that many of these kids have health problems, poor access to medical care, and significant needs that were not being met. In a news release, Glenn Flores, MD, chair of the health policy research for the Medica Research Institute in Minnetonka, Minn., said the findings of the study disclose a pressing need for educating parents about Medicaid and CHIP.

The study also found that minority children in the US have the highest rates of being uninsured. Even though Hispanic and African-American kids comprise only 48% of the nation's child population, they account for 53% of America's uninsured young people.

Researchers recruited 297 uninsured Medicaid/CHIP eligible Hispanic and African-American youngsters at 97 urban community sites in Texas. The team analyzed information on socioeconomic features, length of time in uninsured status, and reasons for being uninsured. They examined the children's state of health, special needs, access to dental and medical attention, the amount of out-of-pocket costs for health care, and the monetary burden that being uninsured had caused.

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