Florida group amps up fight for children's health
More than a half million children in Florida remain without health insurance, despite subsidized and low-cost offerings available throughout the state. U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that in 2010 more than 557,000, or 13 percent, of Florida's children were uninsured. This places Florida fourth nationally by percentage, behind Nevada, Texas and South Carolina. Kids Well Florida, a collaborative of state children's health advocacy organizations, announced Tuesday it is increasing efforts to help parents searching for insurance or those feeling overwhelmed by the bureaucracy of subsidized health care. The group, which includes several Democratic-leaning organizations, also is targeting state legislators expected this spring to debate policies directly affecting children's health."With a weak economy, even more families have had to depend on Florida's KidCare," the umbrella name for the state's low-cost children's health insurance programs, said Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. More Florida families than ever are getting some state support with acute and preventive health care. As of this summer, Florida had 2 million children participating in either Medicaid, for the very poor, or modified plans charging $15 to $196 per child monthly premiums. Wesley Chapel resident Gary Stein signed up his teenage daughters for the partially subsidized insurance more than a year ago, when he was laid off from his job at the Hillsborough County Health Department. Last month, the two girls became eligible for Medicaid, as he's still unable to find work. Health insurance is a must, Stein said. Both girls have Stickler syndrome, a connective tissue disorder the Mayo Clinic describes as causing serious vision, hearing and joint problems. "Consistency (of care) is very important, not just for special-needs kids, but all kids," Stein said. Families need advocates to help decipher the system, says Stein, whose experiences include having the girls turned away by a doctor who no longer accepted Medicaid patients. Kids Well Florida can help families plot out care, as opposed to avoiding seeing a doctor at all. "Even though it has flaws, it is a safety net," he said. The Kids Well efforts announced Tuesday include plans to advocate for the expansion of Medicaid to parents and other adults as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. But Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders repeatedly have said Florida won't expand Medicaid as the law suggests. Woodall said regardless, the group will continue to lobby for support of the law, which presidential hopeful Mitt Romney wants to repeal. If that happens, Kids Well will continue to promote other alternatives, she said. "There are many opportunities to fill in gaps that are not affected by the Affordable Care Act," she said.
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