Health insurance for children on hold

Published May 3, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - A bipartisan effort to boost the number of Florida children with health insurance is likely dead for the year, with the Senate unable to agree on a plan to remove administrative barriers to enrollment in the state's KidCare program.

Senate President Ken Pruitt said Wednesday that it's too late in the legislative session to work out differences of agreement over how to make the state's subsidized health insurance program easier to navigate so that children won't be kicked out. The annual 60-day session ends Friday.

"This is it, it's over, " Pruitt said, adding that he has no intention of asking senators to vote on something worked out hurriedly in the last hours, when people often don't know what they're voting on.

The KidCare program, which provides low-cost health coverage, loses thousands of children every month. Advocates say it's because the program is a bureaucratic morass that's difficult for parents to navigate.

KidCare includes several programs, all with different names and eligibility requirements. If a family's income changes, a child often must switch from one program to another. Children lose coverage until their families can document their eligibility for the new program, which many never do.

The same thing can sometimes happen as children get older, because age is among the factors determining which program a child goes into.

Child advocates contend the measure stalled because the Senate doesn't want to dramatically increase the number of children covered.

"They don't want to pay for it, " said Karen Woodall, a lobbyist with a coalition of children's groups working on the issue.

In the House, lawmakers from both parties expressed frustration over the bill's failure to gain traction in the Senate.

"It's very disappointing, " said Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. "We're not even sitting down at the negotiating table."

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink launched a last-minute push in the Senate on Wednesday to try to save the legislation, but she said Pruitt wasn't receptive to her plea.

"The cost of doing nothing - more unfunded emergency room care and sick children that cannot learn - is too high, " Sink said. "We simply cannot doom Florida's children to another year trapped in the spaghetti factory that is the current KidCare program."