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KidCare's ills are legion, advocates tell senators

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published February 1, 2007


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TAMPA - A woman told a panel of state legislators a joke that's been circulating: There must be a trash can underneath the fax machine at Florida KidCare, the state health insurance program for uninsured children.

Because it seems like all the applications get lost in cyberspace, mail or in red tape, several low-income people and advocates testified Wednesday.

Members of the state Senate Health Policy Committee listened to three hours of comments from worried parents and health care advisers and providers at a town meeting at the University Area Community Center. They were searching for ways to streamline enrollment into KidCare, which serves more than 230,500 low-income children.

The program served nearly 337,000 children in 2004, but went into a free fall after state legislators stiffened eligibility requirements and the application process.

Fewer kids enrolled means less federal funding, and Florida won't cash in on about $17-million available in federal funds for the program this year, said Rose Naff, executive director of Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which administers KidCare.

The federal government allots $451.3-million for KidCare. To be eligible for the money, the state needs to make a $193-million match.

To put all that money to use, 357,777 children need to be enrolled into KidCare. But fiscal deadlines make that nearly impossible, so the state is at risk of likely forfeiting the $17-million.

"I think we're losing money at the expense of our children and their health," said former state Sen. Sandy Murman, who testified Wednesday.

To get more children to enroll, people said, the state needs to spend more money on advertising and outreach.

According to a recent University of Florida study, about 135,000 additional uninsured and eligible kids could still fit under the KidCare umbrella.

Dalia Morales, 3, is one. Her mother Marisol Arellano, 21, said she was about to apply but received misinformation stating she wouldn't qualify. So she didn't fill out the forms until recently, when she learned she could. Arellano works for a nonprofit that helps farm workers while her husband is a drywall hanger, who cannot afford health insurance.

Carolyn Reynolds, a grandmother, told legislators that it took 11 months for an application to go through. One month later her family had to reapply.

"If this is the norm," said state Sen. Victor Crist, R-Temple Terrace, "it's just unacceptable."

Other speakers said online applications take too long. There are few outreach workers spreading the word. There are too many agencies involved. People who get dropped from Medicaid have to fill out paperwork all over for KidCare, they said.

"These are for families trying to make it," Patricia Blanco, a Sarasota doctor, told legislators. "Do it right."

Senators agreed with many of the comments.

"The dollars are available, and it's our job to streamline the program," said Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 1, 2007, 00:53:24]


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