By Bev Johnson
President/CEO of Easterseals Northeast Central Florida
This April, Easterseals Northeast Central Florida welcomed 100 teams and more than 650 participants to its annual Walk With Me fundraiser at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. This year’s event was as impactful as always – bringing awareness to Easterseals' many abilities-focused programs that help young and old reach their highest potential. It also celebrated national Easterseals 100th birthday, which was April 22.
It’s true: Easterseals has advocated for people with disabilities for 100 years. But what’s worrisome is how effectively Easterseals will be able to affect the next 100 years with the limits imposed by insurance companies. Our effectiveness in the next century will not be limited by expertise, need or heart; it will be limited by health equity that’s on the verge of extinction.
After years of decline, Florida’s uninsured children rate increased in 2018. The issue entered the spotlight when the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families released a report not long ago that stated Florida, after years of declining numbers of uninsured kids, is seeing an increase in uninsured children.
It’s a sudden, unsettling trend that all of us should care about, and we should anticipate it will continue until we collectively decide that it’s unconscionable.
The report’s authors, Joan Alker and Olivia Pham, state that 12 states had rates of uninsured children that were significantly higher than the national average, and Florida’s included. Of the state’s youth (18 and under) population, 7.3 percent are without health insurance –- that’s around 200,000 children. The authors flatly declare: “The nation’s many years of progress in reducing the number of uninsured children came to a halt and reversed course in 2017.” Florida is at the top of this most unfortunate list.
Easterseals Northeast Central Florida, which offers services throughout Volusia and Flagler Counties, experiences this insurance-coverage deficit daily. In addition to offering scholarships to families whose children are uninsured, Easterseals also often offers scholarships to children who are underinsured. This means that families have commercial health group insurance, but their policies do not offer specific therapy disciplines, or they may be severely limited in quantity. (For example, the health group insurance may offer 30 therapy sessions for the child, versus the recommended 3-times-per-week for 6 months recommendation by healthcare providers.) Alternatively, the deductible may be so high that families can't possibly fund services before co-pays set in.
The number of children enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP and non-group coverage declined this year in Florida. Why? According to Alker and Pham, factors include national political efforts to repeal the Affordable Care act, the cap on federal Medicaid funding, and the unprecedented delay by Congress to continue CHIP funding (which allowed for its temporary lapse).
Further, the study reveals, because many of Florida’s children have immigrant parents (though these children are U.S. citizens themselves), and because the current Administration has instituted policies that target immigrant communities, it’s likely these parents are deterred from enrolling their children in national healthcare programs. According to KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the well-being of children in the United States, 1.355 million children of immigrant parents lived in Florida in 2016. The number increases yearly.
Why does Easterseals care? Why should you care? Easterseals understands that when children do not receive the healthcare they need, they are less successful in school. And then, this lack of achievement follows many of them through life, affecting their ability to thrive as productive members of our communities. This long-term reality impacts our economy, our healthcare system, our workplaces and our neighborhoods…everything.
Let’s be Americans who believe in achieving health equity for all Americans. When we believe this, we must support the position by our actions. We need to urge our Representatives to focus on child healthcare priorities. Call the District offices in Washington, DC (202-225-2706), DeLand (386-279-7343), Palm Coast (386-302-0471) or Port Orange (386-756-9798).
Our country has the most advanced medical care available in the world. However, how well we can access this care largely depends upon our health insurance allowances. For the vulnerable of our communities – including children who are uninsured and underinsured – obtaining the health care needed to thrive isn’t a right; it’s a privilege.
Easterseals is doing its part. Florida, will you do yours?