Health Coverage for Immigrant Children Fails in Florida

Education
Racial Equity

When the Florida legislature ended their 2014 session on May 2, one of the bills that failed to make it out of committee and to the floor was a health coverage bill for lawfully residing immigrant children. HB 7 and SB 282, introduced by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R) and Senator Rene Garcia (R), would have eliminated the waiting period for those children, a five-year time span that prevents them from enrolling in KidsCare. The bill would have allowed more than 20,000 Florida children to join children in 21 other states that allow coverage without long waiting periods. We commend the members of the Florida legislature who fought for children’s coverage during their session and we thank them for their work. We are disappointed in the outcome, like so many people in Florida are, because we know that children, literally, can’t wait for health coverage.

When CHIP was reauthorized in 2009, the law allowed states to take up the option that eliminates the five-year bar on coverage. Some states already covered all kids and some covered lawfully residing kids with their own state dollars even before this option. Now, the map of coverage includes Virginia and North Carolina in the Southeast, Iowa and Nebraska in the Midwest, and Texas and New Mexico in the Southwest. States all across the country are covering more children because policymakers and experts know that five years is too long for a child to wait. In fact, five years can feel like and even be a lifetime to a child with an untreated condition.

A recent study shows that adding the coverage option for lawfully residing immigrant children brought health coverage up by 25% for immigrant children in those states. Not only did they receive health coverage through their state programs, they also experienced a significant drop in “unmet health needs.” While we know that coverage alone isn’t enough, what we know now is that the coverage led to real care for kids: doctors appointments, identification and treatment of conditions, and lowering long-term health costs.

There is much to learn from the states that cover lawfully residing children. The health outcomes for the children covered and the money saved will continue to be studied and revealed over time. In the meantime, five years is too long for a child to wait.