Approximately 25 percent of Florida's children--or 750,000 kids--do not have health insurance. These children are typically treated for urgent or emergency conditions in inappropriate settings and do not share the continuity of care enjoyed by their insured peers. Most people find this fact morally unacceptable, but Florida is one of the only states that has fashioned a viable solution to it. Florida Healthy Kids Corporation has been compensating for the lack of health insurance that threatens the safety of thousands of children since 1992. Healthy Kids has successfully implemented its program in nine counties throughout Florida, and 14 more await funds to proceed with the program. It serves 18,000 children, a small but significant dent in the rampant problem of uninsured children in Florida.
Since many families in Florida hover around the poverty threshold, but are employed, a specific problem arises: they do not qualify for Medicaid, but also do not receive health insurance from their employers. The result is that many children do not receive consistent preventative medical attention, physicals, vaccines and other critical health care. These are the children targeted by Healthy Kids.
Healthy Kids is a non-profit agency. The cost of caring for uninsured children is distributed among three sources: state funds (45 percent), local funds (18 percent), and family contribution (usually about 37 percent). Children are identified as potential participants through their records of eligibility for free or reduced lunch in school. This method of outreach has effectively streamlined the identification process by utilizing existing measures of need.
Healthy Kids has done some investigation into how well the service delivery has been received among parents of children in the program. Ninety-seven percent of families are very satisfied with the health care benefits, 94 percent are very satisfied with the length of time they must wait between requesting an appointment and seeing a physician, and 93 percent would recommend their physician to others. It is possible that this high level of satisfaction with Healthy Kids is due to the program's commitment to equality of care and compassion for children in poverty. This ethos is illustrated by two defining elements: the acceptance of any eligible child, regardless of medical history, and the fact that once covered, children are not differentiated from other patients as program participants to their health care providers. The first point is evidence that Healthy Kids truly is a program that is dedicated to the health of children--even difficult and costly patients. The second layer, keeping participation in the program private, is also critical to assuring that the quality of care for children remains high. Families are given an insurance card identical to any other, so that the health care provider is unaware of the patient's income status.
The population served by Florida Healthy Kids Corporation is one that is rarely part of the country's policy priorities. The very existence of "working poor people" is an affront to the traditional conception of the American Dream--that working hard yields social mobility. But the fact remains that there are many people who are employed and therefore not supported by public assistance, but whose jobs fail to include health insurance. Florida Healthy Kids provides a health safety net for children whose parents don't have health insurance, and cannot pay the tremendous premiums attached to health care. For a growing number of children in Florida, Healthy Kids is the right prescription.