James Call, Florida Current, August 20, 2013
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, will try again in 2014 to extend health coverage to the children of legal immigrants. Diaz filed HB 7 Monday to repeal a provision denying coverage under Kidcare to a child who has been in the U.S. for fewer than five years.
“The intent of this bill is to get coverage to children who are here legally,” Diaz said. “The state has a provision if they haven’t been here for five years then they are ineligible. (HB 7) clarifies eligibility, it’s important to give adequate health care to children.”
Similar bills have died in committees the past two sessions. Diaz reworked the proposal and specifically excludes undocumented immigrants from optional Medicaid services such as Kidcare. The programs are joint ventures between state and federal governments with Tallahassee administering the programs with guidelines, rules and matching grants coming from Washington.
In 2009, the federal government repealed a rule preventing legal immigrants from enrolling in the programs during their first five years in the U.S. Twenty-one states eliminated the waiting period. A legislative analysis estimates up to 20,000 children would become eligible for Medicaid and Kidcare if Florida were to lift the five-year requirement.
“Any increase in the number of people getting Medicaid is fabulous,” said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood. “It has a good chance to pass. I think even the most hard-hearted person would want to give medical care to a sick child.”
Legislative analysis of a 2012 bill similar to HB 7 placed the cost of lifting the five-year eligibility requirement at $23 million to the state and $25 million to Washington.
Diaz said he sees the proposal as a money-saver for the Florida. He said if the preventive care offered by Kidcare reduces visits to hospitals and illnesses because of a lack of healthcare then his proposal should reduce overall health care costs.
“We’re already paying for the care in hospital emergency rooms,” said Diaz. “This is drastically more affordable for our state.”
Reporter James Call can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org