Florida KidCare expansion clears Legislature with unanimous support
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/10/23-House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, reacts to the unusually succinct prayer offered by Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, at the start of session, Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Opening prayers in both chambers have a history of covering a long list of topics, Rep. Shoaf went in the opposite direction with a prayer, according to the House Journal, that was three sentences long. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

It's the first time the state has expanded eligibility for the options Medicaid program in 25 years.

In an area of bipartisan accord during a bitterly divided Session, lawmakers agreed to expand eligibility for the state’s children’s health insurance program commonly called Florida KidCare.

The passage of the bill comes after House Speaker Paul Renner put his clout behind the Medicaid expansion, saying in his opening-day remarks that families should not lose access to a subsidized children’s health insurance policy just because their incomes have risen.

The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to pass the expansion contained in HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Robin Bartleman. The House had voted unanimously to pass the expansion earlier this Session.

Sen. Alexis Calatayud has been working on the issue since she her time as an aide to former Rep. Vance Aloupis, who advocated for the expansion in conversations with Renner. Calatayud was privy to those discussions, she said, and learned about the program then.

It’s the first time the state has expanded income eligibility for the program since it was created in 1998.

“To me, it’s absolutely incredible that the Speaker has prioritized this. I’m just really happy to be the shepherd of the policy in the Senate and make sure we got it across the finish line,” she said. “Today was very, very special.”

Florida KidCare is the state’s version of the federal children’s health insurance program (CHIP), itself a Medicaid expansion program for children aged 5-18 whose families earn too much to qualify for the traditional Medicaid program. Congress passed the law in 1997 and agreed to pay states roughly 15 percentage points more than the traditional Medicaid match rate.

The Florida Legislature agreed to pass the optional Medicaid expansion a year later, and the federal government pays about 69 cents of every dollar spent on the program.

Unlike traditional Medicaid, which is free for enrollees, Florida KidCare enrollees are required to pay a small monthly premium. But families lose access to the subsidized health insurance plan once their income exceeds 200% of the federal poverty limit.

The bill allows families that earn up to 300% of the federal poverty level to qualify for the program.

In addition to expanding eligibility to more children, the Legislature also agreed to fund the expansion in the state’s 2023-24 budget, including $20.6 million in the General Appropriations Act. Renner also successfully pushed for $76.1 million in pediatric fee increases so more physicians will agree to care for children in the Medicaid and KidCare programs.

HB 121 takes effect upon becoming law, but the children cannot enroll in the program until Jan. 1, 2024. That gives the Florida Healthy Kids Board of Directors, which administers the Florida KidCare program, time to establish premiums and copayments for newly eligible enrollees.

The legislation requires the FHK board to establish the fees, premiums, copayments, deductibles and co-insurance requirements that newly eligible enrollees will pay. Using the poverty level as a guide, the board is required to establish three to six tiers.

“This bill is a huge win for Florida’s working families. It will allow parents the opportunity to provide affordable health insurance for their children. We are so grateful for the leadership of Speaker Renner who put this issue at the forefront and to the members of the Legislature who made it happen,” FHK Board Executive Director Stephanie Haridopolis told Florida Politics.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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