By Carol Gentry
1/14/2009 © Florida Health News
Congress is poised to extend the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Florida, which has more than 800,000 uninsured children, needs to find matching funds to get its share.
Two Democrats from the state have pitched a solution to the incoming administration, but since it would give a break only to some states, it's unclear whether it will fly.
The SCHIP bill, which could come to a vote in the House as soon as today, carries an estimated cost of $33 billion over 4 1/2 years, paid for through a 61-cent hike in the federal cigarette tax. It would extend coverage to 4.1 million additional children; 7 million are currently enrolled. (More information on federal action is at the Washington Post).
Just how much of the money would be available to Florida isn't clear at this point, says Jennifer Lloyd of the
Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which runs the SCHIP program in this state under the banner of KidCare. But as things currently stand, she says, in order to get the federal funds Florida has to come up with a 32 percent match. (The matching amount is different for SCHIP than for Medicaid).
Given that Florida lawmakers are whacking about $2.8 billion out of the current budget today -- the Senate has already passed it -- and perhaps $6 billion in the spring session, it's hard to see where the match money would come from. That's what prompted Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Congresswoman Kathy Castor from Tampa, to come up with a proposal.
They hope to persuade President-elect Barack Obama to waive the matching requirement for states that have at least a 10 percent budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year and a large percentage of their children without health coverage. Florida meets both standards by a large margin, with a deficit for next year that could amount to one-quarter of general revenue, Sink and Castor said.
In a letter mailed to the Obama team on Monday, they suggested a waiver of the required match for states in the bottom 25 percent of rankings for children's health insurance coverage. A news release from Sink's office pegs the percentage of uninsured children in Florida at 18.8 percent, making Florida's rate the second-worst in the country.
(State Health Facts, published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that as of 2007 Florida had 19.5 percent of children uninsured; only Texas was worse, with 21.8 percent of kids lacking coverage.
Ellen Gedalius, press secretary for Castor, said Wednesday that the waiver is not a part of the SCHIP bill but it's "something we're continuing to work on."
The public-private KidCare program had 198,500 children enrolled as of December, Lloyd said, with room to add more. Subsidized rates of $15 or $20 a month per family are available to those with incomes under 200 percent of the poverty level, or $42,400 for a family of four under 2008 guidelines. (The 2009 guidelines are not up yet.)
Families with higher incomes can buy coverage at full rate: $128 per child per month or $159 if the child has ongoing health problems. About 19,000 families do so, Lloyd said.
The expansion of KidCare would allow families to get subsidized rates for coverage if they make under 300 percent of poverty, Lloyd said. That's equivalent to $63,600 for a family of four, $52,800 for three or $42,000 for two.
Only about 13,000 families at that income level are enrolled in KidCare since they have to pay the full rates, Lloyd said. But she expects far more families would flock to the program if subsidized rates were available.
-- Contact: 727-410-3266 or e-mail Carol Gentry.