THE ISSUE: Florida needs Medicaid expansion.
OUR OPINION: Florida’s lawmakers have failed to protect a large segment of its population.
Last year, a 58-year-old Citrus County woman died because she was one of the 2.2 million Americans in the “coverage gap.”
Florida is one of the 17 states that chose not to expand Medicaid for people up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Cathy Morrow’s plight should strike a chord, even with the hardest of hearts. She worked at a local assisted living facility while also serving as caregiver for her husband and father. Her income was too low to qualify for subsidized plans and too high to receive Medicaid, thus the “coverage gap.”
Florida ranks near the bottom of all states in providing easily accessible and affordable healthcare coverage. It is also one of only 17 states that did not accept expanded Medicaid for people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
According to the Commonwealth Fund’s 2019 Scorecard on State Health System Performance, Florida has among the highest rates of uninsured adults, children without a medical home, and preventable hospitalizations for adults ages 18 to 64. Among Florida’s 21 million residents, 2.7 million under age 65 were uninsured (16%) in 2017. Florida alone accounts for almost 10 percent of the nonelderly uninsured in the United States. (Started in 1918, the Commonwealth Fund promotes a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, and people of color.)
A majority of Floridians favor Medicaid expansion. Nevertheless, a majority of state legislators and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are against it. The next option is to put it on the ballot and let voters decide. However, Florida lawmakers passed a new bill this year that makes it more challenging to get ballot measures to voters. Canvassers must be paid by the hour instead of by the number of signatures they collect. This change effectively scrapped Florida Decides Healthcare Inc. effort to get it on the ballot for 2020.
Nationally, evidence shows that expanding Medicaid to close the “coverage gap” is working. The uninsured rate dropped from 22 percent among working-age people (18-to-64-year-olds) in 2014 to 13 percent in 2018.
Additionally, the expansion has created savings for states within the Medicaid program creating financial improvements in other areas. According to a Commonwealth Fund report, “the cost of expansion would be more than fully offset in Florida over the first five years of expansion.”
If Florida had expanded Medicaid when the majority of other states did, Cathy Morrow might still be alive today. Her illness was treatable and her death was preventable.
Florida lawmakers can and should do better. Let’s hold them accountable if they don’t.