The Florida House on Thursday passed a long-debated proposal to help children of legal immigrants get health-insurance coverage through the state's KidCare program.
The House voted 118-0 to approve the measure (HB 89), filed by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. The Senate has long sought to eliminate a five-year waiting period for children of legal immigrants to be eligible for the subsidized insurance program.
Diaz and Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, had sponsored the proposal for four years without persuading the House to move forward with the issue. But the resistance ended in January, when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, announced his support.
"This is one of those bills that, for me, makes this whole process worth it," Diaz said Thursday before the vote.
The change would not apply to children who are in the country illegally. Diaz said at least 17,000 children would be covered under the bill, receiving preventive care that would keep them out of emergency rooms.
He also said children with medical problems would be better able to manage their conditions.
"If these issues are not addressed early on, these kids will have chronic issues forever," Diaz said.
The Senate still needs to give final approval to the proposal, which also has been included in what is known as a budget "conforming" bill.
"So we are in a good place," Diana Ragbeer of The Children's Trust said. "We have the option of taking the standalone bill or continuing to pursue the Kidcare bill with the conforming language in the Senate."
Negotiators last weekend agreed to include $28.8 million -- almost all of it federal money -- in the proposed 2016-17 budget to pay for the change.