Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida has its priorities - and they don’t include sick, disabled kids

They deny it. Of course, they deny crafting policies that regard chronically ill and disabled kids as expendable line items, as so much flab to be excised from the budget of Children’s Medical Services.

State health department officials deny that they designed a clever new screening system calibrated to knock thousands of Florida’s frail and ailing children out of the program providing crucial pediatric care.

They deny it, because they know Floridians wouldn’t be pleased to discover that the governor’s triumphant tax cuts were financed, in part, by tossing 6,000 “medically complex and medically fragile” children out of CMS. With many more likely to follow. With what amounts to an unofficial moratorium on enrolling additional children into the program.

The administrators at the Florida Department of Health deny all that. They deny there’s a moratorium. They insist that the new patient screening program “was carefully and thoughtfully developed to ensure that CMS is serving children with special health care needs as directed by the Legislature.” They said CMS was still “committed to serving Florida’s most vulnerable population.”

Trouble is, if the Department of Health honchos are telling the truth, that means that 20 medical directors and assistant directors and pediatricians, who run most of the state’s pediatric medical centers operating under the auspices of CMS, are liars.

The Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller reported last week that most of the directors and assistant directors in the system risked Tallahassee’s ire and signed a damning letter to the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) describing their alarm over “the vast changes” at CMS that have “resulted in a significant decrease in access to care for these vulnerable children.”

Their letter to the accreditation agency deplores a number of new money-saving policies that undercut delivery of medical services, including a screening process that has “resulted in almost one fourth of eligible CMS children being screened out.”

Special needs kids pushed out of Children’s Medical Services are enrolled in one of the state’s Medicaid managed care plans, which, the Aug. 20 letter warns, are “ill-equipped to care for children with special health care needs.”

The Florida Health Department, of course, denies that kids shunted into Medicaid will suffer a fall-off in “care coordination and access to all necessary primary and specialty care.”

Except in December, U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled that the state had flouted federal law by, among other things, using such chintzy reimbursement rates that children in Florida’s Medicaid plans were essentially denied access to healthcare.

Florida would need about $200 million to fix the children’s medical care disgrace. Which is about half what we taxpayers will save through the much ballyhooed tax cuts the governor pushed through the Legislature this spring. Sure, we’re shorting medical providers who serve the state’s neediest children, but we’ve courageously ended the tax on — among other blessed endeavors — gun club memberships and yacht repair bills beyond $60,000.

Super yachts, gun clubs or — what’s that you say? Poor children’s health? Florida, of course, has its priorities.

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