Legal Immigrants, State Could Benefit from Insuring Florida's Newest Kids

Mar 9, 2015

Credit Florida Senate / FLSenate.gov

Twin bills floating through Florida’s legislature would make it easier for immigrant children to receive health care. Expanding KidCare for Florida children would cost just under five million dollars.

Leroy Carter is a recent immigrant to the U.S. About a month ago, he tried and failed to get health insurance for his child who is here. Carter says he makes too much as a part-time worker to qualify for some care. But his problem is also that he just arrived.

“And then the fact that I am a green card holder who has been in the country for less than five years, it has put some restrictions on what care I can get,” Carter says.

Republican Senator Rene Garcia’s Kidcare bill is simple: It lifts the five-year wait for legally residing immigrant children to get health care. An identical bill is moving through the House. Garcia says his bill in its current form would only affect children who are in the state legally.

"It's taken some time to try to educate some of our members that this has nothing to do with immigration but has to do with quality health care for children…for legally residing children," Garcia says.

He says, however, he favors expanding free health care to all the state’s children—immigration status notwithstanding.

"I believe all children should have access to health care, access to health insurance, and they are here by no fault of their own and they are children," Garcia says.

Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the bill. Associate Director for Health for the group Michael McEwen says bishops want to ensure children in the state are safe.

“We’re always out to protect vulnerable populations, and we believe these kids are vulnerable if they are not receiving health care,” McEwen says.

Democratic Senator Eleanor Sobel says she expects the bill to pass the Senate easily and says she hopes the House agrees to fund the measure. She says the bills five-million-dollar price tag is probably lower than the state would pay for uninsured hospital visits.

“It costs much more if these kids would go to the emergency room—maybe forty million dollars,” Sobel says.

The bill would take effect on July 1.