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Number of Florida uninsured children spiked during the Trump administration, report finds

The study did not factor in the coronavirus pandemic.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida saw the second largest increase of uninsured children in the nation during the first three years of President Donald Trump’s administration.

That’s the top line conclusion of a new study released Friday by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families. Between 2016 and 2019, 55,000 Florida children lost their coverage, wrote the report’s authors, Joan Alker and Alexandra Corcoran.

Only Texas, which had 243,000 children lose insurance, saw more children lose coverage during that time. Nationally, some 726,000 kids lost coverage during the first three years of the Trump administration — despite a robust national economy.

“Having health insurance is an essential pre-condition for children to get the care they need to grow and thrive,” the authors wrote. “The recent losses of health coverage during the examined period are very troubling.”

Many factors likely contributed to kids losing coverage, the report noted. Among them:

• The Trump administration’s efforts to “undermine” the Affordable Care Act.

• The administration’s “large cuts” to “outreach and enrollment assistance” which help get people signed onto plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.

• A “hostile climate for immigrant families" which stopped even the eligible from seeking certain health benefits.

Related: What the potential death of the Affordable Care Act means for Florida

Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, will be the next Florida House Speaker if Republicans maintain control of the chamber this November. He took issue with the study’s methodology, noting Florida has seen a surge in its total population in recent years.

“Here is the truth: Florida has experienced a massive increase in kids, and yet our rate of uninsured kids has remained steady in 2018-2019," Sprowls said in a text message. "The Florida Legislature has led the charge to help families using the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Especially families in the middle class who are often left behind by our social safety net programs.”

The Georgetown study was based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, an annual series of federal government population estimates.

In an interview, Alker, one of the report’s authors, noted that Florida could take a number of steps to make sure as many children are covered as possible.

The state could expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Alker said. This would make about 800,000 currently uninsured Floridians eligible for coverage. However, Republicans in the state Legislature have long rejected this move, arguing Medicaid is bad insurance that many doctors don’t accept.

Florida officials could also simply do a better job of informing families what government programs they’re eligible for, Alker said.

“Florida could make more of an effort to do outreach to families, particularly to families that are losing their jobs, losing incomes,” the professor said.

Anne Swerlick, senior policy analyst for the Florida Policy Institute, said the state could also simplify the way poorer children currently get access to care in the state. Florida families have to navigate a system which can involve any number of major state entities: the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and Florida Healthy Kids Corporation are all partners in the state’s Florida KidCare program.

"There needs to be a real commitment to figure out how to make this less complex for families,” Swerlick said. “It’s very fragmented and unnecessarily complicated.” Her organization, the policy institute, claims to advocate for policies that make Floridians more economically mobile.

Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who will likely be the next Florida Senate president, said he’d like to make the health insurance system as easy for families to navigate as possible.

“If there are complications within the system for families to be able to access that care, we certainly want to simplify that,” Simpson said.

Despite the large estimated number of children who lost care, Florida was not among the worst states by percentage, according to the Georgetown report’s tally. In 2016, 6.6 percent of children in Florida were uninsured. By 2019, the percentage had grown to 7.6 percent, an increase in line with the national average.

The report noted that nationally, Hispanic/Latino children saw their uninsured rate jump the most, from 7.9 percent to 9.2 percent. However, American Indian children, 13.8 percent of whom lack coverage, remained the most likely to be uninsured. Black children saw their insured rates stay about the same during the first three years of the Trump administration.

It’s unclear what the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be on Florida’s children, the report said. But with so many parents having lost their employer-sponsored health insurance, it’s likely the number of uninsured will continue to grow.

“There is very little chance that the number is going in the right direction,” The report read.

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