April 24, 2020

Expanding Medicaid Now Would Provide Relief to Thousands of Uninsured Floridians Facing Coronavirus-Related Hardships, Help Fill Deep Budget Gap, According to New Report

Coalition of health-care focused organizations states that there are no excuses left for Florida lawmakers to continue denying residents access to affordable health care

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Strengthening the state’s Medicaid program during the coronavirus pandemic is the most efficient, economical way to meet the needs of over 800,000 uninsured residents — a number projected to skyrocket as massive layoffs continue, according to a report released today by the Medicaid Matters for Florida Coalition.

The report, Uninsured During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Urgent Need to Build on Florida's Medicaid Program, includes firsthand accounts from Floridians impacted by the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. This includes Deborah, who has worked for over 30 years in the human services industry, but has a pre-existing condition and is not able to see a specialist, and Emily, whose brother Peter died from an ear infection in March 2020. Peter was afraid to seek care because he had $40,000 in outstanding medical debt and thought the hospital and urgent care facilities would demand he pay the bill before they would provide treatment.  

Florida Policy Institute (FPI), the nonpartisan organization that authored the report, explains that if Florida expanded its Medicaid program to cover adults aged 19 to 64 with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level —$17,608 for a one-person household, $29, 273 for a family of three — more than 800,000 Floridians would gain access to coverage, including 400,000 residents stuck in the health care “coverage gap.”  

The report outlines why expanding Medicaid is urgently needed to help quell the adverse health and fiscal impacts of the ongoing public health crisis:

  • Expanding the Medicaid program now would help uninsured people with low income access a full array of needed care and avoid facing crushing coronavirus-related medical debt. The federal government applies amendments to Medicaid state plans retroactively to the beginning of the current quarter, so an amendment filed prior to June 30 could be effective April 1.
  • People covered by Medicaid are more likely to have a consistent source of care compared to those who are uninsured. Thus, expansion would help divert demand away from already-stretched safety net providers trying to serve a growing number of uninsured residents during this public health emergency.  
  • Florida would see net state budget savings. Over the next five years Florida could  see  as much as $14.3 billion in much-needed additional federal dollars through the enhanced match rate, freeing up hundreds of millions of state dollars that could be injected into other areas of the budget. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicaid found that increased Medicaid spending in expansion states was subsidized entirely by increased federal funding and did not force states to cut back on other priorities, such as education. Moreover, the new federal dollars offset other state costs. As Florida’s inadequate “rainy day” fund was ranked 41st in the nation, it’s especially important for the state to receive an influx of federal dollars.

“Before the coronavirus, expanding Medicaid was urgent. Now it’s critical. Other states that have expanded Medicaid are much more prepared for a pandemic,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “The state Legislature should reconvene and immediately consider this option that 37 states have already taken advantage of.”

“­­­Florida has the country’s fourth highest rate of uninsured residents, due in no small part to our failure to expand Medicaid,” said Alison Yager, Director of Policy Advocacy at Florida Health Justice Project. "COVID-19 now threatens all Floridians, but leaves acutely vulnerable those uninsured residents who are disenfranchised from the healthcare system. Seen in the light of current events, our failure to expand Medicaid is not just a moral outrage, it is an accomplice to the spread of a lethal pandemic. The time to take action is now.” 

“The need for health care has always been there. With Medicaid expansion on the table during a global pandemic, I can't think of a better time to do something about it,” said Scott Darius, director of Florida Voices for Health.

While Florida has taken several administrative steps to address the ongoing public health crisis, including seeking a waiver to require that Medicaid cover all necessary services for testing and treating COVID-19 and prohibiting the involuntary termination of Medicaid for beneficiaries covered as of March 18, 2020, none of the actions taken extend coverage to Floridians who are currently uninsured.

The Medicaid Matters for Florida Coalition is spearheaded by Florida Voices for Health, Florida Health Justice Project, and Florida Policy Institute. The coalition is focused on building a learning community of partner organizations in support of expanding Medicaid to adults with low income.

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