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Health outreach group could lose state money

Florida Covering Kids & Families has for 11 years received state funding to conduct outreach for the Florida KidCare health-insurance program for children.

Now, Gov Rick Scott’s administration wants to eliminate state money for the group and direct it instead to the Florida Healthy Kids Corp., an agency whose board the Governor controls.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration has contracted in the past with Florida Covering Kids & Families, a program based at the University of South Florida College of Public Health that performs outreach activities for Medicaid and KidCare.

But AHCA argues in a legislative budget request that state law requires the non-profit Florida Healthy Kids Corp. to develop and implement a plan to publicize KidCare, which provides subsidized coverage to children ages 5 to 18 who live in families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Significant strides have been made in increasing enrollment of children into Florida’s KidCare program, and the AHCA intends to continue to look for ways to improve access to quality health services for children,” the budget document said. “To better publicize the opportunity for families to access these health services, the AHCA finds that funding appropriated elsewhere in it’s (sic) budget would better serve the state by providing this funding to FHKC for outreach efforts.”

Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, said the organization had received $200,000 in annual state funding to help promote the children’s programs and to do outreach with veterans and local businesses to promote state health programs.

This year, Ray said, Florida Covering Kids & Families was given a six-month, $100,000 contract that ends Dec. 31.

According to AHCA’s legislative budget request, the outreach activities by Florida Covering Kids & Families have been “somewhat helpful,” but Florida Healthy Kids Corp. could do the job.

Florida Healthy Kids Corp. was established in state law in the 1990s. It is run by a board of directors and is chaired by the state Chief Financial Officer, an elected Cabinet position. The other 12 members are appointed, two-thirds of them either directly by the Governor or by virtue of serving as one of the Governor’s agency heads.

In addition to promoting the state children’s health insurance programs, Florida Covering Kids & Families is a “navigator” that works to provide education, training and enrollment assistance to help people obtain health coverage, mostly through the federal insurance exchange under Obamacare. The Donald Trump administration in 2018 reduced navigator funding to Florida Covering Kids & Families by 81 percent.

Florida has led the nation in Obamacare enrollment since the insurance exchange was initially launched under the law formally known as the Affordable Care Act. Just under 1 million Floridians had enrolled in the program through Dec. 8. That’s down from the previous year’s enrollment.

The move to eliminate funding for Florida Covering Kids & Families also comes on the heels of a Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report this month that showed about 325,000 uninsured children in Florida in 2017, up from 288,000 in 2016. That put Florida’s overall uninsured rate for children at 7.3 percent.

AHCA’s budget was put together under the direction of outgoing agency Secretary Justin Senior, who recently announced that he would leave the post to take a position as the chief executive officer of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. The group represents hospitals with some of the highest Medicaid caseloads in the state.

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