1. Health

More Florida children are protected by health insurance, but thousands still lack coverage

Published Feb. 11, 2016

The share of kids without health insurance in Florida dropped from 11.7 percent in 2013 to 9.6 percent in 2014, according to a study released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Observers called the trend "progress" in the effort to expand coverage to all children in Florida.

But they also pointed out that the figure was well above the national average of 6.3 percent — and enough to land Florida on a list of the five states with the highest rates of uninsured children.

An estimated 413,000 children in Florida still lack coverage, according to the report.

"Any way we look at it, Florida still has too many uninsured children," said Laura Brennaman, policy and research director for the consumer group Florida CHAIN.

Florida wasn't the only state to see its percentage of uninsured children decline from 2013 to 2014. Twenty-two other states saw a statistically significant drop, according to the report.

None saw a statistically significant increase.

The authors of the study credit the Affordable Care Act, which launched its health insurance marketplace in 2013 for coverage starting in 2014. Although the federal health law was aimed at adults, it had the effect of helping kids whose parents purchased marketplace coverage.

What's more, many Obamacare outreach efforts also provided information on state-run insurance programs for kids.

"People who might not have realized they were eligible for (public) coverage found out about it," said Katherine Hempstead, who directs coverage issues at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Florida offers health insurance for children from birth through age 18 through its Florida KidCare program. The program offers four types of coverage, including MediKids for children ages 1 to 4, Medicaid for children from low-income families and the Children's Medical Services Network for children with special health needs.

A fourth option, Florida Healthy Kids, charges families based on income. Most families pay $15 or $20 a month. Higher-earning families pay the full price: between $205 and $284 without dental coverage, or $220 and $299 with dental coverage.

About 2.3 million children were enrolled in KidCare programs in 2014, according to data from the state.

Allison Sullenberger of Valrico was among the Florida parents who found coverage for their children in 2014.

Sullenberger had thought her daughter was covered under her ex-husband's plan. But during a visit to the family doctor, she learned the 10-year-old had gone nearly a year without health insurance.

"My whole life flashed before my eyes," she recalled. "A break of the arm would have set us back thousands of dollars."

Sullenberger enrolled her daughter in Florida Healthy Kids that August. The following year, she learned the girl was eligible for full Medicaid coverage.

"A weight lifted off of my shoulders," the mother said.

According to the Johnson foundation report, the decline in uninsured kids was most pronounced among non-white children (down 3.1 percent) and those in families living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (down 2.8 percent).

The share of uninsured children with disabilities fell from 7.9 percent to 6.7 percent.

Advocates say Florida still has a long way to go.

Brennaman, of Florida CHAIN, said many parents still don't know how to get coverage.

"We need more outreach and more streamlined enrollment to achieve true access to care for Florida's children," she said. "We have nearly universal coverage for our senior citizens in Florida. Why do we tolerate anything less for our vulnerable children?"

Hempstead said Florida should also consider expanding eligibility for those programs by expanding Medicaid for adults — something the Legislature has repeatedly rejected.

However, state lawmakers are considering eliminating a mandatory five-year waiting period for legally residing immigrant children seeking access to KidCare. The version of the proposal moving through the House (HB 89) is ready for a vote on the floor.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory on Twitter.