May 13, 2020

COVID-19 Highlights Need for Data on the Impact on Communities of Color

This post was last updated on September 29, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Experts agree that "[t]o reduce disparities, it is critical to first know where they exist."  The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gaps in the collection and publication of health-related race/ethnicity data. To this end, an earlier FPI report urges the state to take additional data collection steps to help answer the critical question:  Does Florida's Medicaid program help reduce health disparities?

Nearly 4 million Floridians are covered by Medicaid; more than 60 percent are people of color.  Most Medicaid beneficiaries are enrolled in managed care plans (MCOs). As part of its oversight responsibilities, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) collects and publishes data on how well MCOs are meeting certain "performance measures." These include measures, such as, access to preventive care, controlling high blood pressure, medication management for people with asthma and hospital readmissions.

Florida Department of Health data already show that Floridians of color experience higher rates of illness and death from a number of health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, specific cancers, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, mental health, and asthma. It is critical for policymakers and the public to know whether the Medicaid program is helping to reduce these disparities.   

A necessary first step to answering this question is to break down and publish Medicaid performance measure data by race and ethnicity. Multiple other states are already doing this to actively monitor health disparities in their Medicaid programs. But to date Florida has failed to do so.

Moreover, at this moment, it is critical for AHCA to develop some specific COVID-19 performance measures and require that data on these measures also be disaggregated by race and ethnicity. New Florida Medicaid policies specify that the program covers all medically necessary services required to facilitate testing and treatment of COVID-19, . But the state cannot effectively gauge whether communities of color are benefiting from these policies. Nor can meaningful interventions be implemented to reduce disparities without this data.   

In sum, we urge state officials and policymakers take the following actions without delay: 

  • Develop COVID-19 specific Medicaid MCO performance measures;
  • Collect and publish COVID-19 and other performance measure data disaggregated by race and ethnicity; and 
  • Identify trends and implement strategic interventions to help reduce disparities.

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