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KidCare signups may get easier

The state Senate voted Wednesday to allow open enrollment in Florida's subsidized health insurance program for low-income children.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 27, 2005


TALLAHASSEE -- A bureaucratic headache for some Florida families may soon end following a state Senate vote Wednesday to allow open enrollment in KidCare, a subsidized health insurance program for children in low-income families.

The Senate sent the governor a bill to allow year-round enrollment in KidCare. The action reversed a decision legislators made last year when they restricted enrollment to just January and September. Since then, enrollment in KidCare has fallen significantly and about 123,000 fewer children are insured.

Lawmakers moved quickly to correct the problem this session. Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to sign the new law as early as next week, and KidCare advocates hope the enrollment window can open soon after that.

Parents who meet KidCare's income eligibility rules pay a monthly premium of $15 so that their children can see the doctor and dentist and receive prescription drugs.

The change comes not a moment too soon for Laureen Busacca of Brooksville, a single mother of four who tried to enroll in KidCare in January but said she repeatedly was put on hold or got busy signals. When she submitted the paperwork that was requested, Busacca said she never heard back from KidCare personnel.

Busacca, 43, works as an administrative assistant to Brooksville's public works director and said she makes about $25,000 a year. She has city insurance, but says she can't afford to include her four children in the program because the premiums and deductibles for them are too high.

"I absolutely am getting enrolled in the program. I qualify," Busacca said. "But getting the kids on it is just a nightmare."

In frustration, Busacca finally wrote a letter to Bush with her complaints, and got a response last month from a state official, Gail Hansen.

"I'm sorry for all the hassle and frustration," Hansen told Busacca. "There is a bill in the Legislature now that proposes allowing enrollment year round. That would help, as they received 96,000 applications in January."

The enrollment restrictions have left KidCare with a budget surplus at a time when parents like Busacca are desperate to enroll. Under federal rules, the money could be spent next year if it is not spent by June 30, but any funds not spent in a three-year period would revert to the U.S. government.

The Senate vote Wednesday was 40-0, and followed House approval of more than a week ago. The bill headed to the governor's desk (HB 569) is sponsored by Rep. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, emphasized the benefits of covering more children and receiving more federal matching money to spend on the program.

"We can open the doors again and get these kids covered," Klein said.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, reminded senators of an effort last year to send notices home with kids on the first day of school. It would cost about $20,000 to print the cards and send them to schools, and Wilson asked senators to make sure the so-called outreach money is included in budget negotiations.

"We still have a problem with outreach and making sure all the children in the community know about Kidcare," Wilson said.

-- Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 27, 2005, 18:10:36]


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