July 20, 2020

Expanding Medicaid Would Help Florida Address COVID-19, Economic Recession

113,000 frontline workers in Florida could gain coverage under expansion

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - States that expand Medicaid are better positioned to respond to COVID-19 and prevent the economic downturn from worsening access to care, financial security, health outcomes, and health disparities, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Florida should act swiftly to implement expansion to help close to 700,000 Floridians gain coverage and weather the crisis.  

Many Floridians who could gain coverage through expansion are people at elevated risk from the virus, whether because they face a high risk of becoming infected or a high risk of serious illness if they do.

For example, in Florida alone, expanding Medicaid could cover more than 113,000 uninsured “essential or frontline workers,” people whose jobs likely require them to show up for work during the pandemic, regardless of stay-at-home orders or other restrictions, such as hospital workers, home health aides, and grocery store workers.

According to CBPP, expanding Medicaid could also provide coverage to 184,000 uninsured older Floridians (aged 50-64), 82,000 Floridians with disabilities, and others with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of complications from COVID-19.

“The tremendous health benefits and improved outcomes that Medicaid expansion would bring Floridians should be reason enough for lawmakers to take action,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute (FPI). “However, expansion would also benefit Florida’s budget by bringing in billions of additional federal dollars, freeing up roughly $200 million in state funds. This really is a no-brainer, especially now, during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

“It’s time for Florida leaders to put aside partisan opposition to Medicaid expansion and think about their constituents in each of these groups: from front line health care workers to older Floridians to working parents,” said Miriam Harmatz, executive director of Florida Health Justice Project. “The suffering and loss caused by not having insurance is almost incomprehensible to those of us who are insured; our leaders have the power to mitigate this  And while we understand the initial impulse to resist any new expenditures, there’s undisputed nonpartisan research demonstrating that Medicaid expansion produces overall budget savings and helps state and local economies."

“Considering the risk these workers are taking on, they and many other hard working Floridians should be given the security of health coverage,” said Scott Darius, executive director of Florida Voices for Health.

Medicaid expansion would also help prevent Florida’s uninsured rate from rising as people lose jobs and job-based coverage due to the recession. Urban Institute researchers project that 40 percent of people losing job-based coverage in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid will become uninsured, compared to 23 percent in expansion states, largely because fewer will qualify for Medicaid.

Expansion has also helped narrow racial and ethnic disparities in both health coverage and access to care. That puts expansion states in a better position to respond to the higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates that Black and Hispanic people and American Indians and Alaska Natives are experiencing in many places; nationwide, the mortality rate for Black people is more than twice as high as most other groups.

Expansion does not eliminate these disparities, which are tied to longstanding racial, economic, and health system inequities, but it does allow people to access treatment for COVID-19, as well as for underlying health conditions that may worsen its effects.

Hispanic people comprise 29 percent and Black people 22 percent of the uninsured Floridians who could gain coverage if the state expanded Medicaid, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Expansion’s life-saving potential ranks with other major public health interventions: if all states had expanded Medicaid, the lives saved just among older adults in 2017 would roughly equal the lives saved by seat belts among the full population.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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