It’s been ten years, almost to the day, since Congressman-elect Charlie Crist pulled $360 out of his pocket to pay for a year’s supply of thermal blankets for 12-year-old Kevin Estinfil, and pulled the plug on state lawyers who’d been fighting in the Third District Court of Appeal to deny the boy the basic supplies that were keeping him alive.
Back then, Crist was the Florida Attorney General who had just been elected Governor, and Kevin was confined to a Medicaid group home for children with life-threatening medical conditions. Kevin’s case turned up on Crist’s radar thanks to bad publicity courtesy of Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller, but not before the state had spent enough money jerking Kevin’s caregivers around to pay for a warehouse full of thermal blankets.
Today, half of Florida’s children rely on Medicaid “insurance,” and the plan is managed as badly now as it was a decade ago.
People who study Medicaid for a living will not be surprised by anything in the damning new report from CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, and neither will families who have sacrificed their savings, their careers, and any hope of a normal life for the sake of a child who will never be able to care for himself.
For the rest of us, Cohen’s look into the lives of Florida’s “health care refugees” is a bone-chilling holiday buzzkill.
Among the refugees are Kim and Richard Muszynski, formerly of Boynton Beach. With good jobs and longtime Florida roots on both sides of their blended family, they could not have imagined packing it in and starting over in Colorado.
But that’s what they did, after five-year-old daughter Abby, who was born with a life-threatening genetic disorder, had one near-death experience too many due to the toxic combination of underfunding and red tape for which Florida’s Medicaid program is infamous.
In Colorado, Abby’s physical health and her parents’ mental health have improved dramatically. Somehow, America’s Centennial State has figured out how to give children enrolled in its Medicaid program the therapies and medications ordered by doctors, without interference from Dr. No at the Department of Pennywise, Pound Foolish.
Another member of the Florida Medicaid Diaspora is three-year-old Sofia Patriarca. Like Abby, her needs are complex and will require round-the-clock care all her life. Sofia’s parents sold their family pizzeria in Lantana and will relocate to a state that’s safer for children with unique abilities.
“Medicaid forces us to give our children subpar care,” Sofia’s mother, Stefany Garcia-Patriarca, told CNN. “They treat them like animals instead of children.”
It took special courage for Heather Rosenberg to tell CNN that she and her husband have considered leaving Florida to obtain better health care for their children. As foster parents to 16 children, three of whom they adopted, Rosenberg is an expert on Florida Medicaid.
She described it to CNN as “horrible” and “an absolute nightmare,” hastening to that she speaks as a mother, and not in her role as — wait for it — children’s ombudsman at the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Florida spends a small fortune recruiting foster and adoptive families, and promises that they will not have to dip into their own pockets to fund essential medical services that are beyond the reach of all but families with the richest private insurance plans.
No matter how much room people like the Rosenbergs have in their hearts, they’ve only got 24 hours in a day, and they should not have to spend a minute of it begging the state to keep its promises to Florida’s Medicaid eligible children.