One legislative issue should warrant every Floridian’s attention: Extending healthcare access to more of our state’s children.
A bit of history: In 2009, states were given the option to waive a five-year waiting period that delays lawfully residing immigrant children from accessing their state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. In simpler terms, a newborn child who moves to Florida today — and is fully eligible for the state’s subsidized health-insurance program — may be unable to see a doctor until he or she is entering kindergarten. Since 2009, 26 states have opted to waive this five-year waiting period. Florida, however, has not.
Instead, an estimated 25,555 of our children continue to wait — often times forgoing the medical care they need to stay healthy. During these five years, these children are less likely to see a doctor or a pediatrician, far more likely to have unmet medical needs and, therefore, significantly more likely to miss several days of school.
Children who do not have access to medical care can face far more difficulties in school and in life.
Two bills — HB 7 by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and SB 282 by Sen. Rene Garcia — would help change this and would do so affordably. The most recent analysis shows that extending Florida KidCare eligibility to these 25,555 children would cost Florida an estimated $19.5 million — just 0.0003 percent of the state’s total budget — while helping save money by reducing the costs associated with uncompensated care, expensive emergency-room visits and time lost from work by parents who must care for their sick children.
But the importance of this policy rests not in how much money it will save, but in the people who will be positively affected by its passage and implementation. It rests with the parents and caregivers of our state, who must deal each and every day with the challenges, preoccupations and anxieties that come from having children who are uninsured.
Parents, like Manuel Posas of Tampa and Esther Betancourt of Fort Pierce, who are simply unable to afford private health insurance for their children and are, therefore, left in limbo, praying that their children will not get sick. Parents, like Irina Flores-Montalban from Sarasota, who was told after moving to Florida from New York — a state that has waived the five-year waiting period — that her three children were no longer eligible for subsidized healthcare. Unable to afford private health insurance for all her children — Margarita, Emilio, and Jose – she found herself faced with the complicated and unfair choice of deciding which of her children to insure.
Let’s remember the 25,555 children in Florida who are stuck waiting. These children and their parents shouldn’t wait any longer. None of us should.
Julio A. Fuentes, founder and president, Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lake Worth