Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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445,000 FL Children Uninsured

TALLAHASEE, FL– The Sunshine State is anything but for more than 445,000 children who do not have health insurance.

A new report released today by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families in Washington ranks the state fifth in the country when it comes to its high rate of uninsured children.

Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, says one reason the rate is high is the fact Florida lawmakers chose not to waive the five-year waiting period for legally documented immigrant children to receive coverage through the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as 20 other states have.

"Changing that and allowing these children who are living in the state, who have followed the rules and are documented, but they are waiting for five years to gain access to this program," she says.

Nationwide, four of the 20 counties with the highest percentage of uninsured children are located in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Orange.

Nationwide, 5.2 million children lack insurance. Half of those children reside in six states, including Florida and neighboring Georgia.

The number of uninsured children in Florida did decrease by a little more than 30,000 from 2011 to 2013.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families and the report's author, says the availability of existing programs also makes a big difference.

"We also see states that haven't perhaps made as aggressive policy choices as other states in extending eligibility for their CHIP programs, and trying to reduce barriers to enrollment, and that's key for kids and their parents," she points out.

In the last five years, nationwide, the number of uninsured children declined by 1.7 million, thanks in part to Medicaid and CHIP.

Next year, Congress will be voting on funding for CHIP, and Alker says a lot is riding on the outcome of that debate.

"I'm certainly guardedly optimistic that CHIP will be funded next year," she says. "On the other hand, we do have a certain amount of difficulties in coming to agreement on anything. So, I hope that CHIP doesn't get caught up in that."

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 760,000 Floridians would be covered if lawmakers chose to expand Medicaid.

Photos/graphics and links added by the Observer | Photo of little girl: Kids Well Florida; Charts: Georgetown Univ. Health Policy Institute

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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