Gov. Jeb Bush called upon the Legislature to provide health insurance to tens of thousands of children on a waiting list in his State of the State Address. Wednesday, lawmakers responded as they plan to eliminate the entire waiting list for KidCare.
More than 90,000 kids are on a waiting list for the KidCare insurance program. KidCare provides health insurance at a very low cost to children of the working poor. Now, lawmakers say the state has the money to put all those kids in the program thanks to extra dollars from the federal government.
“In a very fiscally responsible manner, we are buying down the entire waiting list of children and making sure they can stay on through 2007,” says Paula Dockery of Lakeland.
But the legislation to expand the program also tightens the eligibility requirements potentially booting thousands of kids off KidCare.
United Way president Ted Granger says the last thing the state needs is to have more uninsured kids ending up in emergency rooms.
“And of course we all pay those costs and those costs are much, much higher than the costs that we pay for KidCare,” says Ted.
Critics of the legislation fear forcing low-wage parents to buy private insurance will mean many just won't bother.
“If they're earning 20 or 25,000 and the program costs a thousand dollars a month, how is somebody going to be able to afford 12,000 a year when they only earn 25,000?” says Sen. Ron Klein, (D) Boca Raton.
The lawmakers supporting changes to KidCare eligibility say making sure you don't include kids who can get health insurance elsewhere allows you to provide it to more children who really need it.
The bill to fund the KidCare waiting list could be on the governor's desk within days. The Senate also voted to eliminate the funding to advertise the KidCare program. Supporters say they can use the money to enroll another 6,000 children, but critics say cutting the funding for the advertising budget for KidCare means eligible kids might not ever hear about the program.