Voices of Florida. Made possible through the generous support of the Gidel Family Foundation.

Donna Stone: What KidCare Means To The Stone Family

When Donna’s Stone’s husband left his job as a public school teacher to pursue their dream of owning their own small business, they faced a terrifying prospect.

Life without health insurance — not only for themselves, but even more frightening, for their three children. Then Donna found Florida KidCare, almost by chance. She picked up a flyer at her daycare center, and almost before she knew it, her kids were signed up. “Without this program, we wouldn’t have had insurance for them,” says Stone, 45, who works as a massage therapist while her husband, Brian, runs the family’s bike shop in Pensacola.

Florida KidCare is the state of Florida’s initiative to make health insurance accessible to all children, with rates on a sliding scale. Benefits include doctor visits, immunizations, dental care, hospital stays and more. Subsidized enrollment, based on family size and income, can be as low as $15 or $20 month. Full-pay options also are available, making affordable health insurance and care available to every Florida child. Much is at stake. Studies have demonstrated again and again that children without health insurance do not receive adequate care. Their parents do not seek prompt treatment when their children are ill. With less preventative and well-child care, when uninsured children enter a hospital in Florida, they are 1.5 times as likely to die there as insured children.

Yet despite the KidCare program, Florida has the sad distinction of having the nation's second-highest percentage of uninsured children, and possibly even the highest. More than 12 percent of our youngest, most vulnerable residents – at least 548,000 children, by conservative estimates – do not have health insurance.

Improving the accessibility of this program is one of the legislative priorities of the Children’s Movement of Florida, which notes that families often do not know they are eligible for the coverage or how to access it. The program, which at one point spent $10 million yearly in outreach efforts, now spends only $46,000 for printing of materials for its “Back to School” Campaign, relying on the voluntary efforts of school districts to distribute postcards.

As a result, thousands of children remain uninsured who, for a nominal cost, could be covered. What’s more, Florida misses out on millions of federal matching dollars that would help pay for the medical care of needy children.

To Donna Stone, the whole thing doesn’t make sense. “The whole purpose of this program was to make sure families have access to health care,” she says. “I don’t understand why more people don’t know about it. For us, it makes it so that we can have good insurance for our kids.”

When the Stone family joined the program, they qualified for the lowest rate. But as their bike shop and Donna’s client list have grown, so has their financial situation. Although their children are still on KidCare, they are now on the full-pay program. But even at the higher rate, the Stones say the program has kept insurance within their reach for the children while they continue to build their business in tough times. She and her husband have no health insurance for themselves because they say it is too costly. “This really helped us out financially. It’s awesome,” Donna Stone says.

Florida is missing the boat if it doesn’t expand the program and make it more accessible, she says. Without preventative care, she says, the health care bill for needy children will still land in the lap of state — only then those costs will be higher, and kids will suffer in the process.

“I think most people understand the value of this [program]. They know the importance of where we put our money, of investing in our children,” she says. “This is a program that has proven itself. It is working.”