I’m happy to be visiting Tallahassee today during “Children’s Week” just as Florida’s lawmakers are facing one of the most consequential decisions they could make for Florida’s children and working families.
To help lawmakers understand what’s at stake, today we released a report with the Kids Well coalition explaining how expanding Medicaid would help uninsured parents and children. Ranking 49th, Florida has one of the worst uninsured rates for parents in the country.
Why do so many of Florida’s parents lack health insurance? Because many of them work in jobs that don’t offer them coverage, and Florida has an extremely restrictive Medicaid program. Florida is one of the hardest places for a working parent to qualify for Medicaid coverage. Parents in a family of three earning more than $142 a week, the equivalent of working 18 hours a week earning the minimum wage, are considered to have too much income to qualify for Medicaid coverage in Florida.
People often assume that if you have a job, you have health insurance, but that just isn’t the case for many of Florida’s working families. Our report found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of the uninsured parents that could benefit if Florida found a way forward on Medicaid are working. They are working as waiters, cooks, carpenters, hotel desk clerks, housekeepers and in other jobs vital to keeping Florida’s tourist industry strong.
Another key finding from the report – uninsured parents most likely to gain coverage are typically white, between the ages of 26-49 years old, and have one or two children. Our report is based on data from the 2013 American Community Survey.
Working parents would receive much needed help with health insurance costs if Florida accepted the federal Medicaid funding set aside for the state. When parents don’t have to worry about unpaid medical bills piling up, they can take better care of their own health and devote more time to making sure their children are getting the care they need to succeed in school. Medical debt is a leading cause of bankruptcy, so insuring the whole family is essential to enhancing the financial security of Florida’s low-wage working families.
One study our report cited found that more than half of all infants living in poverty have a mother suffering from depression. Untreated maternal depression can be damaging to a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. In the highly regarded study of Oregon’s Medicaid program, Medicaid coverage was shown to significantly decrease the rates of depression; this is just one example of how important Medicaid coverage is for the future success of Florida’s families.
Another rarely discussed outcome our report highlights is that research based on other states finds that extending Medicaid to parents will reduce Florida’s incredibly high rate of uninsured children. Florida ranks 47th in the country for percentage of uninsured children, and one of the quickest ways to bring this rate down would be to offer coverage to the whole family.
As Children’s Week unfolds in Tallahassee our new report underscores that accepting federal funding for Medicaid is a children’s issue – even though it is rarely discussed in those terms.