MY WORD
by Patricia Maddox
Appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on November 19, 2003

Some things can’t wait.

Like kids without health care.

And it’s a long time until the next Florida Legislative session.

So the Winter Park Health Foundation, hoping to offer a bit of relief from the problem, Monday offered to supply up to $600,000 to the state on a one-time basis. The money could be used as a match to latch on to federal dollars to cover reinstatement of the Healthy Kids low-cost health insurance program in Orange County.

But the Foundation is finding that it is not easy to give away $600,000, surprising as it seems. There are multiple administrative hoops to clear, some the Foundation has been working on since September when Foundation members started considering the donation.

This is the latest snag.

It seems that when the Florida Legislature capped enrollment in the Healthy Kids program, they did provide the ability for local governments or other qualified organizations to contribute money. But the budget did not include the authority required for the state to be able to draw down the federal money, an important technicality.

This could be corrected if the Legislative Budget Commission takes action on Dec. 11, the date of its next quarterly meeting. But before the Commission can consider the move, the Governor’s office must act to put the issue on the Commission’s agenda. That needs to be done this week.

If the issue doesn’t make it onto this agenda, its next appearance might be three, long uninsured months away.

Will that happen? Stay tuned.

The Foundation remains undeterred because it believes in the Healthy Kids program and it believes that all of the children on the Healthy Kids growing waiting list deserve coverage.

It was heartening to hear a lot of discussion about the Healthy Kids problem at the meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Access to Affordable Health Insurance in Tampa where I announced the Foundation’s grant. Task Force members and speakers alike praised the Healthy Kids program. It is a model for the nation, and one to be proud of, they said, even though funding problems abound.

The program, which provides low cost health insurance for children ages 5 through 18 in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid coverage, is a good program and shouldn’t be thrown away, they said.

There is a lot of work to be done by leaders to come up with a proper long-term solution. The Foundation offering is a one-time fix, one they feel lucky to be able to offer. But this is not a call for all local communities to take over the state match because many just can’t afford it. The program would suffer.

This may be an unusual approach, but maybe unusual is good if it gets everyone looking at new ways to deal with the issue of the uninsured.

Foundation members believe there are more than 2,400 good reasons to keep plugging away at the issue. That is how many children now are on the waiting list for Health Kids care in Orange County.

And there are other reasons:

  • Healthy children do better in school. That should be no surprise. There are studies that show the obvious, that children who are healthy are more likely to succeed in school. It is tough to do your best when you are sick and missing school.
  • Health insurance coverage often results in improved access and appropriate use of a variety of health care services, which can decrease the use of more costly emergency and specialized services. Kids will have their own doctors, they won’t have to rely on the emergency room for care.
  • The lack of health care costs everyone in terms of lost health and longevity, financial risk within families affected and lost productivity, according to a July 2003 Institute of Medicine report.

The grant also reflects the Foundation’s goals for the community. The Foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization that provides more than $4 million a year to support community projects that promote equal access to health care, healthy youth and vital senior citizens.

This grant won’t solve the problem, but the Foundation believes that every little bit counts. And more importantly, it just seems to be the right thing to do.

Patricia Maddox, is president of the Winter Park Health Foundation