Fla. Panel Offers Ways to Keep KidCare
By DAVID ROYSE 07.30.07, 5:48 PM ET
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Some parents should be able to pay for state-subsidized health insurance for their children through automatic paycheck deduction, a panel said Monday as part of a series of recommendations on how to boost enrollment in KidCare.
The advisory panel, appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, will make several proposals to the board of the Healthy Kids Corp., which oversees the KidCare program, in an effort not only to increase enrollment, but to decrease the number of families who drop out of the program unwillingly.
Many parents and advocates say the jumble of programs collectively known as KidCare - but also called by several other names - that provide subsidized health insurance for children is confusing and difficult to navigate.

Moreover, several advocates say that the transition from one children's health program to another - often required if the family's income changes or as the child gets older, for example - isn't easy and often families simply lose coverage.

Lawmakers tried to streamline the system earlier this year, but couldn't agree on how to do it - partly because of squabbling between state agencies. Right now, several different agencies all have pieces of the KidCare program, and advocates say that's part of the problem.

Putting it altogether under one roof would help, many officials and advocates agree, but that would take legislation. In the meantime, there are things that can be done without a change in law, and the ad hoc committee that made its recommendations Monday is looking at those things.

Most of the proposed changes are relatively technical in nature. For example, the committee suggests changing when parents enrolling children should begin to pay premiums. Currently, they must pay a month ahead of enrolling their child. Critics say that's one more obstacle that prevents kids from getting covered - waiting for the family to pay the bill to enroll the child. The panel suggests enrolling the child, and then billing the family for the first monthly payment.

Another seemingly technical change could drastically improve retention of children in the program. Right now, when families renew they must provide data about their income - which some say reduces the number of people who go through the renewal process, or at least slows it down, while parents hunt down tax documents, for example.

The panel suggests that might not be necessary for some families, because state agencies already have access to information about their income. For example, they may have already given their income to a government agency for some purpose - such as an application for Medicaid - or their income may be unemployment compensation, which the government would already know about.

In those cases, KidCare officials could simply send the family a notice asking them to verify whether the income is right, and if no response is received they could assume it is, meaning the child could be enrolled more quickly.

The panel also is suggesting that large employers should be asked to allow automatic payroll deductions for KidCare, which makes it far less likely that a child will lose coverage for nonpayment of premiums. Currently, that option is available to employees of the Broward County school system, but the panel suggested that all companies with at least 100 employees who already have children in KidCare could be asked to participate.

State officials say that there are at least 40 employers around the state who meet that description, and that the largest three of those employers - Wal-Mart, Publix and the Miami-Dade County school system - employ nearly half the workers who would fall into the group.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed