Florida families whose children receive state subsidized health insurance under the KidCare program were told by state officials this week that they have until Oct. 31 to pay up or lose their coverage — because the state has chosen not to seek a waiver to provide them with more financial relief.
“Florida KidCare understands that Hurricane Irma may have impacted families and their ability to make their payment for October coverage, so we are extending the payment deadline until October 31, 2017,” writes Florida KidCare on its website. But, it also notes, that kids whose families fail to pay up by then “will not have Florida KidCare coverage in October.”
The decision by the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Florida Department of the Health, and Florida KidCare to extend the payment deadline from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31 is being criticized by children’s advocates as unfair and shortsighted. But after the Herald/Times published this report online Thursday, the agency said it would consider “further extending the deadline should the need arise” and “will work with every family to ensure there is NO lapse in coverage due to Hurricane Irma.”
“Ensuring that children have access to healthcare is one of our agency’s top priorities, and to imply that the state would leave these families to suffer in the wake of Hurricane Irma is absolutely false,” said Mallory McManus, AHCA spokesperson.
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KidCare covers about 160,000 children ages 5-18 and charges most families $15 to $20 a month depending on their family size and income. Children in families with income between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($32,328 and $48,600 for a family of four) are eligible for the subsidized coverage. Families that don’t qualify for the subsidized rates because of their income and/or citizenship status can pay $220 a month.
Families pay one month in advance for coverage the next month. In a question and answer section on the Florida Healthy Kids website, families are told that if families must apply to have the deadline for their payment extended and: “To ensure continuous coverage for your child, we encourage you to make your payment as soon as possible. Please also remember to pay your October premium for November coverage by October 31, 2017.”
Karen Woodall, an advocate for low-income families at the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, said the state is compounding the troubles many families already face by treating the families who receive the state-subsided insurance differently than people who lost their $55 concealed weapons permits in the hurricane.
“Extending the deadline is not waiving a fee,’’ she said.
In the days after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam waived the fee to replace a lost concealed weapons permit, saying in a statement: “last thing someone needs to worry about is paying a fee to have their concealed weapon license or security guard license replaced.”
“What is wrong with this picture?” Woodall asked. “Concealed weapons holders receive financial assistance in early September while low-income families simply receive an extension of the deadline to pay premiums and they are told they need to pay two months of premiums at once.”
Woodall noted that after Hurricane Harvey, Texas officials asked that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to approve the state’s request to waive the co-pays and enrollment fees for its KidCare-style program, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The federal agency agreed to let CHIP clients who live in a county included in the federal disaster declaration to have their fees waived through November 2017.
“We are suggesting that Florida waive premiums through the end of November, too,” she said. “You are asking families who are struggling to recover — who lost work and lost food, who had homes with standing water and are exposed to more public health risk — to come up with this money to keep their kids insured. Why put families in that situation?”
In 2005, former Gov. Jeb Bush waived Florida’s KidCare fees after the state was hit by four hurricanes, but Florida officials today don’t accept the comparison to the previous administration or Texas.
“You can’t compare Texas’ and Florida’s programs,” said McManus, the AHCA spokesperson. “Every decision that we made regarding premiums and the CHIP program was in the best interest for the children that rely on this care. We will continue to work with Florida families to ensure their children have access to healthcare during this time and we extended the deadline to accommodate families.”
AHCA would not answer why it has not asked for permission to allow families that have lost their income or homes as a result of Irma to temporarily stop premium payments.
Katie Spillman, spokesperson for KidCare, said “there is no way to know” how many children are affected because their parents may not have paid their health insurance premiums in the wake of the storm.
She said the agency is attempting to reach families by telephone, email and letter and is “encouraging families who may have been affected to call 1-888-540-5437 today and talk with a Florida KidCare representative about making a payment or other coverage options.”
McManus said the agencies will work with families “to determine if they are eligible for a lower-cost health insurance or Medicaid.”
The deadline extension applies only to families in the 48 counties designated by FEMA as eligible for individual assistance. The Oct. 31 deadline covers the following programs:
▪ MediKids: Subsidized and full-pay coverage for children ages 1 through 4.
▪ Florida Healthy Kids: Subsidized and full-pay coverage for children ages 5 through 18.
▪ Children’s Medical Services Managed Care Plan (CMS Plan): Subsidized coverage for children with special healthcare needs from birth through age 18.
In 2017-18, Florida will spent $34 million on KidCare programs, and will draw down another $422 million in federal funds to provide the subsidized insurance.