Despite pleas, KidCare is low priority

The Senate likely won't vote on the health insurance plan.

Published May 4, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Margarita Romo of Dade City stood in the Capitol on Thursday with young children who held signs that said "Please help, Mr. Senator, " and "All children deserve KidCare."

"Now is the time, " Romo said. "God is supposed to take care of the children."

As director of a Pasco County farmworkers group, Romo said, she must search for a doctor willing to give free care when one of her children is sick. She came to the Capitol to lobby for changes to KidCare, a health insurance program for poor children.

But the legislative session likely will end today without passage of a bill expanding access to KidCare. Child advocates say the result will be a loss of federal matching funds and hundreds of thousands of kids without care.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, accepted responsibility for the bill's demise. But he lost patience with the bill's supporters, who he said failed to reach a consensus on the bill's many provisions.

"The Senate has been vilified about this, and that's okay, " Pruitt said. "But this didn't happen in the Florida Senate. It's just these providers and these groups finally got together to come up with an agreement, which they didn't, and the process we have here gave them ample time to do it."

Unlike most legislative battles in Tallahassee, this one is not about money. It's about KidCare's byzantine enrollment rules and how to change them to make it easier for parents to enroll their children and keep them insured.

The budget that lawmakers approved Thursday has $55-million more to insure 33, 000 more children, and a new provider has been hired to run the program. Advocates say there are about 500, 000 uninsured children eligible for KidCare.

The bill lost momentum over disagreements about policy, such as whether the children of state employees and of undocumented immigrants should be eligible for care.

House Republicans who favored those provisions went on the offensive Thursday.

"The clock is running out, " said Rep. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. "It's almost irresponsible on the Senate's part to abandon children in their hour of need."

Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, called it a travesty that the Senate wouldn't act.

Galvano and others say they will try to persuade lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist to include KidCare in the 10-day special session on property taxes starting June 12.

Pruitt said the session will end today without a KidCare bill. "It's over, " he said.

Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.