tampabay.com

374,000 children in Florida qualify for health programs

By LISA GREENE
Published August 11, 2006


TAMPA - In Florida today, more than 500,000 children have no health insurance.

Yet most of them - about 374,000 - qualify for state health programs such as Medicaid, health officials said Thursday at a news conference to urge parents to sign up their children.

"These programs are designed for working families, who often believe they make too much money to qualify," said Melanie Hall, chairwoman of the Covering Kids and Families Coalition and manager of the St. Joseph's Children's Advocacy Center.

In fact, a family of four could make as much as $40,000 and be eligible for Florida KidCare programs, which include Medicaid for children, MediKids, Healthy Kids and Children's Medical Services Network.

Medicaid is free. Other programs charge small premiums, generally about $15 to $20 per month.

Part of the problem is that many parents believe that they can't enroll their children, advocates said. Enrollment levels in Healthy Kids and similar programs have plummeted since three years ago, when the state froze enrollment in the program during a budget crunch.

In spring 2004, more than 336,000 kids were enrolled. That number now stands at around 197,000. Another 1.2-million children are in Medicaid.

One mother enrolled in KidCare urged others Thursday to sign up. Brandon resident Mia Dorton said she didn't think her family could get state help since her husband's new job offered insurance for her family. But it would cost $700 a month to put her and their three children on his policy - something the family simply couldn't afford.

"You live in constant fear of your child having to go to the hospital," she said.

The family enrolled in KidCare and pays about $20 per month, she said.

"It has revolutionized our life," she said.

FOR APPLICATION

To apply for Florida KidCare, go to www.healthykids.org or call 1-800-821-4337.