Across the nation, children’s health care coverage has held surprisingly steady in the midst of the Great Recession. This is largely due to such federal assistance programs as Medicaid and CHIP, which fund health care for more than one-third of all children nationally and which, at the start of this decade, were responsible for putting a stop to the rapidly rising numbers of young uninsured.

Since 2000, children’s health coverage has expanded in 35 states – yet there is still much to be done. In a 2011 study by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that focuses on health care trends and needs, every state showed room for improvement in the area of children’s health care.

For bottom-quartile states especially, this year’s to-do list runs long. Ranked 47th overall, Florida faces some daunting challenges, chief among which is expanding the scope of coverage: Nearly 18 percent of children in the state are uninsured, and access to care remains limited.

The good: higher marks in preventive care
Brightening up Florida’s bleak scorecard were several strengths in the area of prevention, both for infants and older children. This suggests that the state could have a healthier population in upcoming years; pre-emptive measures now may mean that future care is less needed, and thus less costly.

Percentage

National rank

Children aged 19-35 months who have received key vaccines (2009)

77.4%

15

Children with preventive medical care visits (2007)

91.5%

12

High school students who currently smoke cigarettes (2009)

16.1%

9

The bad: vast numbers of uninsured
One of the primary barriers to children’s health care coverage in Florida is the prohibitive cost. A second hurdle? Far-reaching poverty. Because Florida has so many poor uninsured, the state truly needs some form of health care reform, though just what shape this reform should take is yet to be determined, especially given the state’s bold anti-PPACA stance.

In the areas of mental and physical health, Florida’s coverage numbers are some of the lowest in the country. And even among children who do have health care, a high percentage is still not adequately insured. All of these stats point to the No. 1 problem with Florida’s health care system performance: access and affordability of care.

Percentage

National rank

Children aged 0-18 who are insured (2008-2009)

82.2%

50

Parents aged 19-64 who are insured (2008-2009)

73.6%

49

Children aged 2-17 who received needed mental health care (2007)

52.0%

47

Currently insured children whose coverage is adequate (2007)

72.8%

46

Access and affordability of care

N/A

49

Prevention and treatment

N/A

44

Equity

N/A

38

Potential to lead healthy lives

N/A

35

The forecast: An agent’s role
In many ways, only dedicated, knowledgeable agents can meet Florida’s need for greater child health care coverage. The Commonwealth Fund’s study calls for enhanced state leadership to implement better service for Medicare and CHIP products, including potential new Medicare pilot programs, and to increase awareness of availability and affordability. Yet reform like this can’t happen without producers who understand the available options and are able to help clients see why they need coverage and how they can get it. Filling this educational gap, helping to streamline a sometimes overwhelming application process, and understanding the latest coverage options spell a worthy mission for Florida producers in this next year – one that could propel all of us forward into a happier, healthier future.

Nichole Morford is managing editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at NMorford@SBMedia.com.