By Trimmel Gomes of the Florida News Connection

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nationwide, over 828,000 fewer children were enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program combined at the end of 2018. A new report says about 70% of those losses took place in seven states, including Florida.

Usually, a drop in enrollment for government programs means the economy is improving and people are getting services elsewhere, such as through employers, and the Trump administration is backing that claim. But the report suggests children are falling through the cracks.

Anne Swerlick, policy analyst and attorney with the Florida Policy Institute, says that includes just over 69,000 children in the state.

“This is an alarming trend, and I think it should be a wake-up call that we need to be doing something different,” says Swerlick. “Because we’re going backward – more kids are going without healthcare coverage.”

Several factors are suspected in the drop, including cuts to marketing and outreach grants that let people know to sign up, and the gridlock in Congress. Swerlick says cost is another big factor since Florida is among the states that charge a premium for families with incomes that are below 150% of the federal poverty line.

Report author Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says employment and economic growth have been steady over the last decade – but the positive trend hasn’t translated into coverage gains for children.

“There was no surge in employment or real wage growth that would account for the enrollment plunge in 2018,” says Brooks. “There also is negligible evidence that any economic factors have substantially increased access to affordable private or employer-based coverage for low-to-moderate-income families.”

Florida lawmakers did tweak the state’s Medicaid and KidCare programs several years ago to ensure that immigrant children are able to receive benefits, although other types of anti-immigrant policies might turn those families away.

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