The Miami Herald
Sun, May. 09, 2004

For Haitian immigrant family of eight, insurance is not an option


Gabriel Demosthene is a part-time college student, church leader and father of six who tries to stretch his meager income beyond Miami to his native Haiti.

It doesn't stretch far enough for health insurance. So his wife, Neslyne Naissance Charlstin, 37, had no prenatal care before delivering baby Elgabsaid in November at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

''I bought a lot of books, how to heal and stay healthy . . . but the children from time to time, they get sick,'' said Demosthene, 35. ''I pray to God to work miracles'' if something serious happens.

Demosthene drove a cab until recently. The hours were flexible but his earnings varied and he hated the work. While looking for a different job, he's taking night classes at Barry University, courtesy of a grant and student loans.

His family lives in a $700-a-month, three-bedroom duplex near Miami Shores. The children are 5 months to 8, all U.S.-born.

Until two years ago, the household got food stamps. Medicaid pays about $550 a month for each of two children with special needs. The others probably would qualify for KidCare, a state-sponsored plan, but Demosthene admits he lost the paperwork.

They get annual checkups at the Borinquen Health Care Center near downtown, where visits run $20 to $30.

If they need medicine, ''What I can afford, I buy them. What I can't afford, I just pray to God and let it go,'' Demosthene says.

The legal resident who left Haiti in 1996 somehow makes do. In addition to household and school expenses, he pays about $10 a month for international phone cards, makes church donations and sends money to family and a school in Haiti, which he visits several times a year.

Jackson sent bills after the new baby's birth. Charlstin took them to the Department of Children & Families. Demosthene figures the charges will be waived.