Children Who Are Sick Can’t Succeed
Good health is the foundation for children to grow and learn. The COVID-19 pandemic, which touched all areas of a child’s health, has highlighted weaknesses that already existed within the infrastructures meant to support the health of children in Florida. Children in child care settings have increased exposure to transmittable diseases, more children have fallen into poverty and struggle with housing and food insecurity, and mental health has worsened for children across the state.
Preventative medicine and access to medical professionals when sick are critical to helping children develop and thrive. Programs are available to provide free and low-cost health services for children and families in need. Services including maternal and infant programs, KidCare, dental care and Medicaid keep low-income children and families out of expensive emergency rooms for issues preventable with regular medical care. These programs also help keep the family well, while identifying medical issues early on–leading to quicker resolutions and better outcomes.
Florida Children are at Special Risk from COVID-19 because of Their Age
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, children are at an increased risk of its devastating effects. Recently the COVID-19 vaccine became available to children ages 5 and up. Prior to that change, the demographic with the lowest rate of vaccination were children, ages 12 to 18. This may stem from the untrue belief that children cannot get sick or contract COVID-19.
As variants of COVID-19 continue to spread, the disease has become even more dangerous, especially for young people and children who are experiencing increases in hospitalization rates. Florida experienced one of the highest pediatric hospitalization rates in the country during August of 2021.
The CDC recommends schools require all students and faculty wear masks regardless of vaccination status, students maintain a distance of at least 3 feet apart when possible, and students and faculty stay home if experiencing any signs of illness. Florida’s current statewide policy doesn’t allow school districts to require masks, allows children to attend school after exposure if they are asymptomatic without being tested, and encourages, but does not require, three feet separation in school. Special session will include a focus on not allowing mask mandates or COVID-19 vaccinations for school age children, even though Florida public schools require other vaccinations for students to attend.
COVID-19 Puts More Children in Danger of Hunger and Homelessness
Amidst the devastating health impacts of COVID-19, the pandemic caused mass lay-offs, job loss, and closure of child care facilities, resulting in over 200,000 Florida children falling into poverty, which experts believe could lead to 15% more children entering the foster care system. To help support the growing number of families in need, congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which included an expansion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In Florida, this expansion caused massive administrative issues which meant delays in its disbursement resulting in hungry children and families.
Florida was also granted $870 million for rental assistance from the federal government. This funding led to the US Supreme Court’s decision to block the extension on the eviction moratorium on August 26th, leading to the imminent risk of eviction for hundreds of thousands of Florida residents impacted by COVID-19. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) states that more than 30,000 applications have been received. Many are waiting for the tenant to provide additional documentation. Unfortunately, only about 2% ($18.3 million to about 4,300 applicants) of this funding has been distributed with many eligible recipients reporting an extensive and difficult application process and poor program administration. It is clear Florida lacks the infrastructure to adequately support Florida families through funding and resources. Access to secure housing and food are integral to the health of children with hunger being closely linked to developmental delays and chronic illness in youth.
Losing a Caregiver Has Negatively Impacted Children’s Mental Health
Losing a family member and/or a primary caregiver has severe consequences on a child’s long-term physical and mental health, including higher rates of depression, post-trauamtic stress, substance abuse, and suicide. These tragedies live with children for the entirety of their lives and increase their vulnerability for further negative events. Losing a parent can also put children at a higher risk of economic, food, and housing insecurity. Grieving can be especially difficult for young children who did not get the opportunity to say goodbye to parents and/or grandparents in the hospital without risk of exposure, as well as the chance to hold funerals and memorial services.
Over 140,000 U.S children, 1 in 500 children, have lost at least one primary caregiver to COVID-19, resulting in thousands of families having to grapple with the emotional trauma of losing a loved one as well as the financial strain of a lost source of income and often overwhelming medical bills. This equates to more than 8,600 Florida children experiencing the death of a caregiver. For every 4 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S., 1 child is now left without a mother, father, or grandparent.
65% of children who lost a caregiver to COVID-19 are Hispanic, Black, Asian, or Native American, despite only making up 39% of the U.S. population. Experts say that children who experience losing a caregiver or other adverse childhood events are at a far greater risk of developing emotional and mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Black children were 2.4 times more likely to lose a loved one, Hispanic children were 2 times more likely, and American Indian and Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely.
Racial Disparities in Florida’s Healthcare System Hurts Families and Communities of Color
Racial disparities in healthcare access and treatment exist throughout the country, and Florida is not an exception. According to the CDC, Black women in America are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women. In Florida, Black women die at a rate of 24.7 per 100,000 while pregnant compared to 16.5 of White women. 3.5% of Florida women who do not receive prenatal care are Black, while only 1.9% are White. Disparities in access to and quality of care have been shown to have a negative impact on communities of color. During the COVID-19 pandemic the Lantix population makes up 35% of confirmed cases and 22% of deaths and the Black population makes up 19% of Florida’s confirmed cases and 20% of deaths, although they make up only 26% and 15% of the total population respectively. Health policy reform is needed to ensure people of all races have equitable access to healthcare, and that healthcare professionals are trained to meet the unique needs of every individual without bias interfering with practices.
Florida’s Number of Uninsured Children Is on the Rise
Unfortunately, Florida does not take full advantage of available insurance programs. In 2018, Florida was one of fifteen states that saw the number of uninsured children rise. From 2016 to 2018 there has been an increase of 400,000 uninsured children in the state of Florida. In 2018, Florida’s rate of uninsured children was 7.6%, exceeding the national average. The state also saw a decrease in the number of children enrolled in employer-sponsored plans, Affordable Care Act plans and Florida KidCare, the state’s version of the national Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Nationally, three quarters of children who lost health insurance in 2017 were from states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid coverage to parents and other adults. Florida is among those states – with the state’s total uninsured rate placing the state at fifth highest in the nation. Data shows that when parents don’t have health insurance, they often don’t seek health insurance for their children.
Failing to Expand Medicaid Hurts Florida
Failing to expand Medicaid has a significant fiscal impact on the state. It is estimated that the state will lose $66.1 billion in federal funding over the course of ten years (2013-2022) by not taking advantage of Medicaid expansion. Failure to expand Medicaid does not mean Florida taxpayers won’t have to help pay for the program, just that the state will not receive any of the benefits. While some states have expanded Medicaid in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida is one of the 14 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid.
Preventative Doctor and Dental Visits are Crucial to the Health of Children
Florida ranks 45th out of 51 states (including Puerto Rico) in the number of children receiving a preventative medical and dental visit in the past year. Fifty percent of children with Medicaid visited a dentist in the past year, compared to 67% with private dental insurance. Additionally, Florida ranks 35th in low birth weight babies and 28th in number of infant deaths.
Failure to keep kids healthy impacts the quality of life of a child and their family. Education, family stress, mental illness and long-term outcomes are all touched by the health of the child.
- Invest in programs proven to provide good health outcomes: Healthy Start provides services to expectant and new mothers, increasing the likelihood of good birth outcomes. Kidcare provides health insurance for children 18 and under.
- Expand the pool of eligible children: Increase KidCare eligibility limits to 300 percent of the federal poverty line or $79,500 for a family of four, eliminating the gap between children who do not currently qualify but whose parents can’t afford health insurance. Investing in services to provide preventive care reduces the cost passed on to consumers for expensive emergency room visits.
- Expand Medicaid: Covering over 500,000 Floridians in the coverage gap will save Florida’s budget over $500 million in this year alone, and reduce the burden on safety net hospitals.
- Encourage dentists to participate in Medicaid using incentives: Low-income children currently cannot access dental care even when they qualify for Medicaid in areas with medically underserved populations.
- Stop the spread of COVID-19: Implement science based measures to protect children in child care centers, pre-k settings, and schools from transmittable disease.
- Improve vaccination efforts: Encourage COVID-19 vaccinations through incentives and provide easy access for children when available.
- Protect children from increased risks of food insecurity: Improve social welfare infrastructure in order to ensure full distribution of federal SNAP benefits to support all eligible individuals and families.
American Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights
What American Children’s Campaign is Saying…
- Kids Count Data Center Florida Health Indicators—Annie E. Casey Foundation. Reports Florida specific statistics on all issues facing health care for children.
- Snapshot of Children’s Coverage: Florida—Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. Illustrates how children in Florida are covered by Medicaid, CHIP and the ACA.
- Oral Health Care System: Florida—American Dental Association. Provides an overview of Florida’s oral health care system. As of 2014, Florida ranks below the national average in the percentage of dentists participating in Medicaid for child dental services.
- Shattered smiles: Florida kids face dental crisis—Panama City News Herald. Though adequate dental care has been guaranteed by the Medicaid program in federal law since 1972, the reality of accessing dental care in Florida is much less secure, especially in rural or urban poor communities.
Disclaimer: These links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They do not constitute an endorsement or approval by American Children’s Campaign or its affiliate organizations and partners.