The percentage of Florida children without health insurance fell during the pandemic, but the state remains one of the nation’s worst in providing health coverage for all its kids, a new study shows.
Among those hardest hit are Latinos and the poor.
Some 7.3% of Florida children were uninsured in 2021, ranking the state in the bottom 10 nationally, according to a new study by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. Nationally, 5.4% of children are uninsured, the report found.
The number of children who got coverage during the pandemic rose because the federal government expanded Medicaid, the study found. More than 500,000 Florida children were enrolled in the program since 2020. The result is that almost as many Florida children — 40.5% — are covered by the federal program intended for the nation’s lowest-income families as those with employer-sponsored health care, which paid for medical care for 41.3% of the state’s children in 2021.
The highest rates of uninsured children were among Latinos and in poor communities where almost 9% remain without medical coverage. The rate among Black children was 6.4%, more than a full percentage point lower than the state average.
Many uninsured children likely live in households that would qualify for Medicaid or children’s health insurance programs like Florida Kid Care. The report estimates that almost 10% of children eligible for those programs miss out because of lack of public outreach and administrative barriers.
Florida also has stricter income criteria than most states. It charges premiums for Florida Kid Care to families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, or roughly $46,000 for a family of three.
Elizabeth Gutierrez, a Hispanic community leader and founder of the Wimauma nonprofit Enterprising Latinas, said many families that need services the most are not properly informed about the resources available for their children, she said. Others can’t go to an office and speak to someone about services because that information is mostly online.
“If you are not literate in English and not literate in computers and navigating complex, and too often challenging application platforms, you will likely not even bother,” said Gutierrez.
Katie Roders Turner, executive director of Family Healthcare Foundation, a Tampa nonprofit that helps families and individuals in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties find insurance, said they frequently find families with uninsured children who do not apply for public benefits because they are not aware that they might qualify.
“This is very common in families with mixed immigration statuses, or who newly have immigration status,” Turner said.
Previously in Florida, there was a five-year waiting period for children to enroll in coverage after they received immigration status, said Turner. That changed in 2016. Now, there is no longer a waiting period for kids to have access to Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
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But Turner said barriers to coverage include delays in application processing, confusing letters and communication from multiple state agencies.
She also mentioned technical barriers with online applications for benefits, knowledge of how to utilize and navigate the system, and a fear of receiving public benefits to access health care services.
Isaret Jeffers, a community activist in Plant City and founder of Colectivo Arbol, a nonprofit that helps Florida farmworkers, said they are always working to fill the gap to connect with people, in part through community meetings and partnerships with local groups and businesses.
Jeffers organizes community events and free vaccinations at least two times a year to reach low-income families and their kids. Among collaborators are Walgreens and Sun Shine Clinic, said Jeffers.
“We like to do it because we know that there are many children who need direct and immediate attention to prevent illnesses, but their parents do not have or understand the tools they require,” Jeffers said.
Bruce Lesley, president of the advocacy group First Focus on Children, fears that the rate of uninsured kids could rise again when the federal emergency Medicaid insurance funding ends next year.
Lesley is especially concerned that Hispanic and Black children who already experience higher rates of uninsured, “will bear the brunt,” he wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “Our research shows that more than half of the 7 million children at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage will be Hispanic or Black, and that these children could experience coverage loss at twice the rate of their white peers.”