A mother’s struggle to insure her son
Seven months after moving to Florida, Irina Flores-Montalban found out that
her 11-year-old son, Jose, had a blood clot in his heart and needed an
operation. Because she had no health insurance, she was advised to enroll him
in Florida KidCare, the state’s health insurance program providing subsidized
coverage for low-income children.
But then the 38-year-old Sarasota mother was told that Jose — as well as his
two siblings — was not qualified. Although they have a green card, the family
did not meet the state’s five-year residency requirement.
In Florida, lawful immigrants are eligible for public benefits such as
Medicaid and Florida KidCare only if they have been residing in the United
States for five years. Under the 1996 welfare reform law — which introduced
restrictions for federal income-based benefits related to immigration status
and length of U.S. residency — 22 other states, plus Washington, D.C., enforce
the same eligibility requirement.
“I didn’t know that every state is different,” Montalban, an Ecuadorian
immigrant, said in Spanish. “In New York, where we used to live, they just
asked me to fill out the form and soon I got the medical cards in the mail.”
Desperate, she asked one of her children to go online and look for a
cardiologist. At the time, Jose had already been experiencing frequent
nosebleeds. “I was getting frustrated, but determined to get my son treated. I
was willing to pay the consultation fees,” Montalban said.
When they arrived at the doctor’s office, the doctor informed her that Jose
had a congenital heart condition, indeed was “a ticking time bomb.” Because he
needed to have an operation right away, the doctor’s aide helped put Jose in
an emergency-care program, but the post-operation medical bills were not
After separating from her husband, Montalban and her three young children –
Margarita (17), Emilio (9) and Jose – moved from New York to Florida to start
a new life. Her brother bought a house in Sarasota, asking her to take care of
the house and have their mother live with them.
That way, she could save rent and, at the same time, her children would be
closer to their grandmother, she said.
Montalban works part-time at the clothing retailer Forever 21 and earns about
$600 a month, enough to cover food costs and other basics. Several days a week
she attends an ESL class at a local community center.
But that routine was upended the day she registered Jose for school. When he
took the required physical exam, nurses discovered his blood pressure well
above normal. They later learned of clots in his aorta.
His condition is congenital, Montalban said, and he may need a cardiologist
for the rest of his life. Aware that her kids were ineligible for Medicaid,
she found herself facing a painful dilemma: Choosing which of them to insure.
In Florida, lawfully residing immigrant children are ineligible for the
subsidized program, but can secure coverage through Florida Kidcare’s full-pay
option – with the cost being between $139-196 dollars per month per child.
The choice was clear.
“I had no choice but to get health insurance only for Jose. I pay $141 a month
for his insurance. I would not be able to afford insuring my other children,
so I pray that they won’t have the same health problems.”
Montalban then added that passage of legislation removing the five-year
waiting period would be “more than a blessing” for her and her children. “If
they qualify for Kidcare, I’ll only be paying $20 a month to cover their
health insurance,” she said. “I know that there are a lot of people who are in
In 2013, legislation was introduced in Tallahassee that would remove the five-year waiting period. Legal immigrant children, like Irina Montalban’s, would no longer have to endure such waiting requirements in assessing their eligibility into Florida KidCare. The Children’s Movement in association with KidsWell Florida are leading advocacy efforts to see that these bills are successfully passed and implemented.