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Advocates question Florida Legislature’s decision to decline health care funding


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Child health advocates are questioning the Florida Legislature’s decision earlier this year to get rid of funding that could potentially reduce the number of children being abused.

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Joint Legislative Budget Committee refused about $30 million in federal funding from the Affordable Care Act Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. The funding would have gone toward preventative child care programs.

“There’s been a whole set of programs here that could’ve been helped by federal funds and/or planning money for going forward with health care reform that’s been refused,” said Dr. Richard Bucciarelli, child health care advocate and pediatrician. “I say you can’t afford not to do prevention because 10 years from now we a going to have issues  — either psychological issues, social issues with the families or medical issues — that could have been prevented or lessened if we took the step to utilize the money and enhance the programs.”

The Florida Legislature initially refused and subsequently accepted about $4 million in federal funding linked to the Affordable Care Act in order to apply for the competitive Race to the Top grant funding. The grant funding is designed for a five-year home visitation plan and was offered to Florida with no match needed. Florida accepted funding for the first year, but refused funding for the other four years.

Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement on his website that none of the major provisions in the President’s health care plan caters to economic growth, quality education or a low cost of living. He said health care needs more patient choice, increased accountability for providers and incentives for personal responsibility, and he added that the President’s plan doesn’t offer any of these things.

Healthy Start of North Central Florida Coalition CEO Jeff Feller said legislators are flip-flopping on the bigger issue of the President’s health care plan.

“The problem is they did take (the funding) even though it was apart of the Affordable Health Care Act when they felt they could leverage other dollars that were not part of the Affordable Health Care Act,” he said. “It’s very hard to justify how you can take (funding) for some period of time to meet your needs.”

The coalition’s Program Director Julie Moderie said programs like Healthy Start provide a vital service to about 100 Alachua County families.

“The home visiting funds allowed us to provide more intensive parenting services to these families,” she said. “So overall, it had a big impact on the families we serve down the road and by being able to provide an evidence-based parenting program that’s  been obviously proven to work, we were going to be able to measure the impacts of that, but now it’s been cut short, so we don’t have as much data to really see if it was effective.”

Children’s Home Society of Florida Executive Director Jennifer Anchors said there were more than 49,000 verified reports of child abuse or neglect in Florida last year even though the number of calls was twice that. Anchors added that for every 1,000 children living in the 18 counties that the society’s mid-Florida division serves, around 15 are the victims of child abuse or neglect.

Child Abuse Prevention Project Program Director Annie McPherson said current policies are not acknowledging that a diversity of approaches are needed to help families.

“A lot of the social services have been cut … and when that happens I think you’re putting our community at a greater risk of having child abuse go up,” she said.

Emily Miller edited this story online.

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