Bill Would Streamline KidCare

Nurse Penny Varner with the St. Joseph's Children's Mobile Health Clinic
Nurse Penny Varner has been with the St. Joseph's Children's Mobile Health Clinic since it started
TAMPA (2009-03-06) -

If the governor has his way, the federal stimulus money will bail out Florida's budget. Yet some believe even more can be done with the dough. One legislative proposal would use stimulus money to expand medical coverage for Florida's uninsured children.

Even by conservative estimates, there are nearly 800,000 children in Florida without health insurance. It leaves parents searching for medical care wherever they can get it, like St. Joseph's Children's Mobile Health Clinic.

The purple bus is decorated outside with colorful sea creatures. Inside, kids get free immunization shots and physicals.

That's where third-grader Katherine Delcid is having her vision tested by nurse Penny Varner.

Keri-Rose Harkins is the children's advocate aboard the mobile clinic and serves as a translator for Katherine's mother, Sandra Rosales.

"She's saying that she's very grateful and thankful that we're here because she doesn't have health insurance," Harkins translates.

She also handles paperwork, assesses each child's safety needs, if they have health insurance and if they're eligible for Medicaid or KidCare.

KidCare is Florida's program for uninsured children from low income families. Federally it's known as SCHIP. But, Florida's program does not cover as many children as allowed by national standards. Florida has stricter enrollment rules and has actually sent federal money back to D.C.

State Sen. Nan Rich of Sunrise is sponsoring legislation - Senate Bill 918 - to change that.

"Right now, we have some administrative barriers that prevent kids from getting enrolled and from staying enrolled," Rich says. "Say you lost your job and you'd previously been insured. Right now, you have to wait six months to enroll in KidCare, That's absurd. So, this bill would reduce it to 30 days."

The Democratic leader of the Senate also wants the legislature to use Medicaid dollars from the federal stimulus package to allow legal migrant children to enroll in KidCare without having to wait five years.

"A child gets sick and they don't have health care then the illness is exacerbated and the child ends up in the emergency room. And we all pay," Rich says.

Trips to the Emergency Department at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital of Tampa increased 21 percent from November through January, according to hospital Administrator Michael Aubin.

"Our number of patients who come to the emergency department who actually have no insurance has dramatically increased," he says.

Aubin says those with insurance end up paying for the uninsured. He would like the state to fully fund KidCare, which would cover kids from families living 300 percent above the poverty level. But if that's too ambitious, Aubin suggests expanding coverage to just chronically ill children by setting up a medical home system.

He defines a medical home as a primary care practitioner who will regularly respond to that child's needs. So, if a child is sick in the middle of the night, the parent can call and talk to a doctor or a nurse practitioner - rather than heading to the emergency room.

Aubin estimates there are about 10,000 chronically ill children in the state.

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