Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Medicaid Caseload Growing in Florida | despite Legislature's Rejection of Expansion, More State Funding Needed

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Medicaid Caseload Growing in Florida | despite Legislature's Rejection of Expansion, More State Funding Needed

Article excerpt

HEALTH CARE

TALLAHASSEE -- Although lawmakers rejected a plan to expand it, Medicaid continues to grow in Florida.

A new estimate from state economists shows the health care program for the poor and disabled will serve a record 4 million Floridians this year, a 6.6 percent increase over the prior year that ended June 30. The estimate, from the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research, also shows Florida's Medicaid caseload has essentially doubled over the last decade, up from 2.2 million in 2005.

The growth in Medicaid is coming despite the Legislature's decision in June to reject a broader expansion of the program under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Senate had advanced the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange program that was designed to provide health care insurance to low-income Floridians as way to offset declining federal support for a hospital program that covers uncompensated care.

In the June special session, House members rejected the FHIX program, saying they opposed expanding a flawed Medicaid program. "It's not compassionate to jam more people into a failing system," Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said during the floor debate.

The new data will provide fodder for both opponents and proponents of the Medicaid system. For opponents, it will allow them to renew their call for limiting the state's reliance on Medicaid, noting its $23 billion-plus cost represents roughly 30 percent of the state's $78 billion annual budget. The Florida Chamber of Commerce has called for a 32 percent long-term cap on Medicaid spending.

But as lawmakers return for committee meetings in the fall and their next regular session in January, proponents can use the data to make the case that Medicaid is a vital cog in the state's health care system, with roughly one out of every five Floridians depending upon the program.

Advocates for expansion will continue to argue that as federal funding for uncompensated care at Florida hospitals declines further next year and will be eliminated in the following year, the state should consider some type of expansion under the federal health care law, which would cover at least 90 percent of the cost in the coming years. …

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