The state Legislature is on the verge of extending healthcare to thousands of Florida children. Revisions to the KidCare program will cover children of legal immigrants.
There are few things less popular in the GOP than immigration reform. Past flirtations with the policy are being lobbed at presidential candidates, and Florida’s lawmakers are pursuing measures clamping down on so-called sanctuary cities and discouraging Middle Eastern refugees.
“This bill authorizes and enables the governor to protect Florida from those who would settle here with the intentions of committing acts of war,” Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville) says. “It identifies dangerous immigrants, defines as an invader anyone who enters with the intent of committing acts of war, it defines as a restricted person any refugee or immigrant intending to settle in Florida if they come from a location associated with invaders or prospective invaders”
Critics say Ray’s proposal is unlikely to pass constitutional muster, but it speaks to an abiding wariness toward immigration within the GOP. Opposition has found root in fears related to employment, safety and illicit drugs.
But that’s not to say Republicans lack empathy.
“If these kids were anywhere else—in any of the states that have approved this language—they would be receiving care,” Rep. Jose Diaz (R-Miami) says. “But unfortunately because of whatever reason, Florida hasn’t been there, but we will be there with your support.”
Diaz is spearheading an expansion of Florida’s KidCare program. It offers subsidized health coverage for kids who don’t qualify for Medicaid, and under Diaz’s bill children of documented immigrants will be able to get coverage within the program immediately.
“The genesis of it is really—it’s really driven by the federal government,” Diaz says. “Through 2009, the population in question—which is lawfully residing citizens, kids that are here legally—would not be entitled to receive federal dollars for things like Medicaid until they were here for five years.”
But it’s been a long time coming. KidCare gets most of its funding through a federal plan called the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It began in 1997, and like Diaz says, it mandated a five year waiting period before documented immigrants could take part in the program. In 2009, Congress passed an expansion allowing states to drop the waiting period—paying for the new enrollees by increasing taxes on cigarettes and tobacco.
Now after years of trying, it appears Florida will join the 20-plus other states that have already removed their waiting periods. Vance Aloupis from the children’s movement of Florida says that’s a pretty big deal for the state.
“I could have very easily waived in support, but I personally and publicly want to thank Representative Diaz for his tireless leadership on this bill,” Aloupis says. “This bill ensure that 17,000 children in this state who currently may not have a relationship with a pediatrician, may be using emergency rooms as their primary care, are covered.”
And those emergency room visits are important. Diaz says the decline in expenditures devoted to emergency care will offset the state’s contribution to program. Rep. Fred Costello (R-Port Orange) commends Diaz for his attention to the balance sheet.
“I guess I have to make one comment. I supported this back when it had a fiscal impact because we’ve got to take care of the kids,” Costello says. “I can’t imagine going from $500 million down to almost nothing. You did an amazing job, thanks for everything you did to make this happen.”
Here’s Diaz again.
“One of the reasons this bill is so important to me is because, you know, I am the child of immigrants, and people who came to this country for all the right reasons and went about the process the right way,” Diaz explains.
The measure doesn’t expand coverage to undocumented immigrants. It has made it to the floor of both chambers without a no-vote in committee.