Fla. children need care

If 96 legislators agree, a special legislative session may be called to discuss the Florida Kidcare program's waiting list.

Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 26, 2004 at 10:01 p.m.
Some kids at a Pizzo Elementary School, in Tampa, are trying to collect 1 million pennies for a school project. They sent off letters to famous people - including Gov. Jeb Bush - but didn't receive a reply from any of them.
"The governor was very concerned when he read about this," Bunny Hanley, director of citizen affairs, told The Tampa Tribune. "Letters from children are very important to him, and he wants to know what happened."
Perhaps the 100,000 Florida children of poor, impoverished families who are on a waiting list for health care might try penning the governor. The Legislature froze enrollment July 1 in the KidCare program, and an estimated 2,000 children a month are added to the list as a result.
For premiums of between $15 and $100 a month, depending on income, families that make just above the poverty level (about $36,000 a year for a family of four) can obtain medical coverage for their children that they could not otherwise afford.
Bush's 2004-2005 budget - which recommends a tax cut, including a $91 million savings for the owners of large amounts of stocks and bonds - proposes enough funding to reduce the waiting list by only 10 percent.
Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, said the KidCare program is "a simple, cost-effective solution," and it was "immoral" not to do something about reducing the list.
Klein said that many of the children on the waiting list "will ultimately be served by emergency rooms and other last-resort providers. This is not only the most inhumane, but the least cost-effective way to contain health-care costs."
Klein, the Senate Democratic leader, and other Senate Democrats, noted that the state recently received more than $400 million from Congress to help with health care costs, but can't use the money for the children's health care because the Legislature has capped enrollment.
The KidCare program started in Florida in 1990 as a bipartisan answer of what to do for families that made too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but didn't make enough to buy health insurance for their children. Florida's program became a model for a federal program now used in all other states. Florida receives federal funds for the program on more than a two-for-one matching grant.
Democratic legislators are forcing the Republican legislative leadership's hand. They collected enough signatures to activate an obscure law that's been used only three times before. Now, the Secretary of State's Office must ask all 160 legislators this week, in writing, if they are willing to participate in a special session to address the backlog. If 96 agree, the session will be called.
Legislators will have to go on record for or against a special session. Republican legislative leaders are downplaying the urgency, saying the waiting list can wait until March's regular session.
Of course, there was no talk about waiting for the regular session last year when Bush wanted a $310 million appropriation to bring the Scripps Research Institute to Florida. Isn't the health of Florida's children as important?
"We have the money," said Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, leader of the House Democrats. "Now we're waiting to see if the Republicans have the will."
So are 100,000-plus Florida children.

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