Lawmakers look to expand state-subsidized health insurance for children

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Eligibility for KidCare, the state's subsidized health insurance for kids, hasn't expanded since 2012.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are looking at making more children eligible for the state ‘s health insurance this Session.
Two proposals would increase the amount of money eligible beneficiaries can make. It would be the first expansion of the program in nearly a decade.

Right now, households making less than 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for the state’s subsidized health insurance for kids, known as KidCare. These are families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but may not make enough to afford commercial insurance. A single mother of two children, for example, can make no more than $43,919 for her children to be eligible for KidCare coverage.

Democrat Rep. Robin Bartleman has filed a bill (HB 135) proposing to increase that income threshold by 10% every year, for the next five years, to eventually include those making up to 250% percent of the federal poverty level (no more than $54,900 annually for that single mother of two children, for example).

Meanwhile, Republican Reps. Chip LaMarca and Adrian Zika have filed legislation (HB 419) and Sen. Ed Hooper has filed a companion bill (SB 640) that would increase the level of eligibility to those families at up to 400% of the poverty level (or $87,840 annually for a family of three). Unlike Bartleman’s proposal, the Republican proposal calls for families to pay monthly premiums on a per-child basis. The premiums families would pay would be up to $200 a month, for each child depending on income, or no more than an $800 monthly premium.

Bartleman’s bill calls for families to pay a $40 premium that would cover all the children in the family.

The state’s minimum wage began a five-year march to $15 an hour this past year, and neither side wants overall pay increases to cost people their children’s health coverage. Bartleman said the state’s at a critical point as wages rise — along with other critical needs.

“What are you going to choose (to pay for) food, child care, which has gone up 200%, or health care?” Bartleman asked, rhetorically.

She said that she’s working with Republican Sen. Keith Perry, to amend her bill so that he can file companion legislation.

LaMarca said he proposed his bill after serving on the Florida Healthy Kids Board — and his own experience after his father died, leaving him fatherless at a young age.

“A family could lose health care because they are trying to better themselves and that’s not what Florida stands for,” LaMarca said.

Karen Woodall, executive director for the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy and the Florida People’s Advocacy Center, said she’s glad to see interest in this from both sides of the aisle.

Eligibility hasn’t expanded since 2012 when the subsidy was expanded to include eligible state employees, she said.

The current Republican proposal, however, is not much better than what’s available now without a state subsidy, Woodall said.

“That’s not really any different than regular health insurance when you are charging that much per child,” she said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]



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