Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Two Million Kids at Stake in Florida Medicaid Battle

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Two Million Kids at Stake in Florida Medicaid Battle

Article excerpt

Next year, Florida will spend about $24 billion on Medicaid.

It's the single largest program in the state budget and responsible for health care for more than two million Florida children, in addition to another nearly two million low-income elderly and people with disabilities.

It's only getting bigger. The taxpayer-funded program, which is projected to add another 250,000 people next year, accounts for about one-third of the state budget.

But by just about any measure the system is broken. Doctors say they can't take on Medicaid patients because they are reimbursed at rates that don't even cover their costs. Patients say they can't get information about how to access care and often can't find a doctor who will take them.

Lawmakers rail against the spending increases in the program, and the public resents tax increase to pay for indigent care, sometimes demonizing the recipients.

Enrollment in Medicaid continues to increase as more people seek coverage to avoid the penalty of going without insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and expenses in the program continue to rise.

For the millions enrolled in Medicaid, their access to health care is a public health concern. More than half of all births are covered by Medicaid, and more than 40 percent of Florida children age 0-18 are covered by Medicaid, according to the 2014 American Community Survey.

Ensuring those children's access to good prenatal and well-child checkups are key to ensuring the health of the state's future leaders.

Over the next year, the Herald-Tribune is bringing together a team of journalists to explore this expansive, yet often ineffective, program. We will bring you stories of families, doctors, policy makers, health systems and advocates who are all grappling with Medicaid.

Through a series of stories in January we will outline the key issues facing the program -- the statewide transition to a Medicaid managed care system, poor access and lack of information for families, struggles of doctors who treat Medicaid patients and the social stigmas and barriers that patients face to get care. …

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