Kids’ health insurance program faces uncertainty

TALLAHASSEE | A top Republican state senator is warning that Florida will not able to keep a major children’s health-insurance program running if Congress doesn’t authorize additional money in the near future.

 

Congress in December authorized a $2.85 billion short-term fix that is expected to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program until March for many states. Some congressional leaders have speculated that a five-year extension could soon be adopted.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who oversees the Senate health-care budget, said Wednesday that Florida is unlikely to have the money to keep the program intact without federal assistance.

“We really have to hope Congress acts on it, because it’s too big a hole for the state to have pick up,’’ said Flores, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. “It would be devastating to those children who wouldn’t get those services.”

Beth Kidder, a deputy secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration, told legislators that the short-term fix is expected to keep Florida’s program running through the end of March. Without an extension, Kidder said roughly 200,000 children would need to get health-insurance coverage through private insurers or agree to pay higher “full pay” premiums to remain insured.

An analysis by Georgetown University, however, has predicted that some states including Florida could run out of money sooner. The university’s Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families said Florida and other states could run out of money before the end of February, based on public data.

The report suggested it may be hard to accurately predict exactly when funding will run out because Congress has tinkered with the rules used to redistribute unspent money to states.

Meanwhile, a House health-care committee gave the nod to a bill (HB 293), which would create a 12-member KidCare Operational Efficiency and Health Care Improvement Workgroup. KidCare is the umbrella name given to four different children’s health programs: the federal children’s health insurance program commonly called CHIP; Medikids, which is the traditional Medicaid program for children; Children’s Medical Services Network, which provides care to medically complex children, and the Florida Healthy Kids program.

Housed in the Department of Health, the group would focus on issues such as increasing efficiencies in the KidCare program.

Child health-care advocates have long complained that the KidCare program is not user-friendly because of the number of agencies involved, including the Department of Children and Families, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Health and the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.

Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee, asked bill sponsor Nicholas Duran, D-Miami, if the group’s progress would be hindered if Congress doesn’t fund the CHIP program.

“I think the fact that we are watching and sort of seeing what’s happening up in Washington, D.C. with the CHIP program and the funding makes this task force even more important,” Duran said. “We have 2.6 million children who are enrolled in the Florida KidCare program, including the Medicaid (children). Being poised as a state is going to be incredibly important, I think.”

 

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