Florida pledges better health care for poor children to settle lawsuit

Florida officials will boost access to health and dental care for poor children in settlement of an 11-year-old class-action lawsuit, the groups behind the legal action said on Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, accused Florida officials of failing to pay doctors enough for treating 2 million children with government-supported health coverage, adding that this discouraged physicians from providing their services.

The settlement calls for Florida to increase payments to physicians who treat poor children and sets benchmarks for preventative and dental treatment to be met over five years, according to the Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs.

Florida health officials and attorneys for the plaintiffs, among them the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, were ordered to negotiate a settlement after a U.S. district judge in December 2014 found Florida fell short of federal standards for providing healthcare to poor children.

Nearly 80 percent of children with government-supported healthcare in Florida were never able to see a dentist, the judge said in his ruling.

The agreement marks a “significant step forward in improving access to medical care” for poor children in Florida, Tommy Schechtman, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement.

An official of the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration could not be reached for comment late on Tuesday.

The settlement must still get final approval from a judge.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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