January 11, 2022

New Legislation Would Help Reduce Health Disparities Among Medicaid Enrollees 

Passage of HB 855 (Bartleman) and SB 1258 (Jones) would be an essential step toward reducing health and health care disparities in Florida, and particularly timely given staggering rates of infection and death in communities of color due to the pandemic. 

Florida Policy Institute has previously reported on the unique opportunity that the Medicaid program provides for addressing disparities.  Thirty-four percent of Medicaid enrollees are Hispanic and 26 percent are Black. Most are enrolled in managed care plans (MCOs).

As part of its Medicaid oversight responsibilities, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) collects and publishes data on how well MCOs are meeting certain quality measures. This includes access to preventive care, controlling high blood pressure, medication management for people with asthma, and hospital readmissions.

In recent years, AHCA has reported significant improvement on these measures. But questions remain: Are people of color and other historically underserved groups benefiting from these improvements?  Does Florida's Medicaid program help reduce health disparities?

Florida Department of Health data 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.

HB 855 and SB 1258 would require the state to disaggregate or break down MCO performance measure data based on race, ethnicity, disability, and other demographics; to publicly report these measures; and to use these measures to monitor plan performance.

Multiple other states are already doing this, as well as the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) for Medicare Part C plans.

Experts agree that to develop and implement targeted strategies to reduce disparities, you must first identify where they exist. This "does not, in and of itself, guarantee…any actions to reduce or eliminate disparities… The absence of data, however, essentially guarantees that none of those actions will occur."

It is critical for policymakers to pass HB 855 and SB 1258 and take this crucial first step to meaningfully address health disparities.

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