Immigrant child healthcare bill cops major win

After floundering for years in the legislature, the proposed HB 89 bill seeking to channel federal money to fund healthcare coverage for uninsured legal immigrant children has finally been approved unanimously by Florida’s House Health Innovations Subcommittee.

The proposed program, which could provide funding of up to $30 million in federal Medicaid reserves, would be administered by the state’s Kidcare program – a subsidized program serving children from low- and moderate-income families. While this plan does not expand Medicaid, the change could help reduce the expense of uncompensated care borne by hospitals.

Over 32,000 immigrant children could be eligible under the expanded program. Some reports estimate the cost to the state could be up to $500,000, while other analysis estimates a net savings of $230,000. The bill has now moved on to the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to finalize proposed funding.

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The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami and Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah, and has long enjoyed much support from other legislators representing South Florida, despite persistent resistance to the bill.

“These are kids that are here legally, who went through the system, whose parents worked hard to come here the right way to this country,” Diaz told the committee. “Yet the broken immigration system rewards them with the same emergency room care. What message does Florida send to those who go through the proper immigration channels?”

“I am so happy today this bill is passing. As an immigrant myself, I understand exactly what you’ve done for that population,” says Democratic Rep. Hazelle Rogers, an immigrant herself from Jamaica, and the representative of the immigrant-rich District 95.

This week, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli also asserted his support for the bill’s proposal to eliminate the current five-year waiting period for immigrant children to become eligible for the Kidcare program. This, however, would not apply to undocumented immigrants.

“I believe the time has come,” Crisafulli said during his speech to the House chamber on the opening day of the session last Tuesday. “These children and their parents have followed our laws and should be able to access the same services many Florida families can. … I ask for your full support of Chair Diaz’ good bill.”

A Senate bill analysis suggested that eliminating the five-year waiting period would cover more than 17,000 children and cost $1.7 million in state general revenue, though a House analysis puts the cost at $1.3 million.

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