Health advocate groups are calling on Florida to halt a review of the eligibility of Medicaid recipients after close to 250,000 residents were terminated from the program during the past four weeks.
The Florida Department of Children and Families began a purge of the more than 5 million people from the state’s Medicaid rolls on April 18 as part of the winding down of the public health emergency that took effect May 11. Since then, state workers have reviewed more than 461,000 people, taking Medicaid benefits away from more than half.
About 80% of those terminated — roughly 205,000 — were disqualified because they failed to respond to requests for information needed to renew their eligibility, the state report shows. About 44,300 recipients were referred to other programs because they earn too much to be eligible.
The high number of so-called procedural terminations has alarmed health advocacy groups, who fear families, including children who are still eligible, will lose coverage because they were unaware of the requirement.
The Florida Policy Institute, an Orlando nonprofit group, was among groups who earlier this year warned of a “looming tidal wave of health coverage loss for children, parents, and young adults.” CEO Sadaf Knight on Wednesday said the state should pause the process and re-enroll those who have been removed until it has checked their eligibility.
“We have consistently urged the state and administration to do everything in its power to ensure no eligible child or parent was kicked off of health coverage because of bureaucratic inadequacies,” she said. “Now, the first reports confirm our fears about unnecessary losses in coverage. There is no excuse for the loss of health coverage for over 200,000 Floridians due to procedural ‘red tape.’”
The state’s Medicaid rolls swelled by nearly 1.8 million people since 2020, when the federal government paid states extra money to keep people covered during the pandemic, even if they were no longer eligible. Similar checks on recipients are being conducted in every state across the nation in accordance with instructions from the federal government.
The Department of Children and Families earlier this year released a plan to send renewal notices to recipients through emails and letters.
The plan states those who lose coverage will be referred to alternatives, including Florida KidCare, a government-sponsored health insurance program, and federally subsidized health centers that treat low-income patients. Hillsborough County also runs a health care program for low-income residents funded through a sales tax.
Hillsborough County received 877 new applications for its program in April. As of Wednesday, more than 1,060 people had applied this month, said spokesperson Todd Pratt.
“The federal pause on Medicaid redeterminations for the last three years has been unprecedented,” said Department Secretary Shevaun Harris in an April 18 memo to health care groups. “This change reflects a return to normal operations.”
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Florida’s Medicaid program covers children ages 5 and younger in households that make $33,408 or less and older children whose parents make up to $31,795. But there is no coverage for parents who earn more than $7,000 a year, and adults with no children are ineligible no matter how little they earn. Only four states in the nation have stricter Medicaid eligibility, according to the Florida Policy Institute.
The Florida Health Justice Project is also calling for a halt to the state’s Medicaid review process. Eligible families with children who rely on Medicaid could fall through the cracks and be disqualified, said Alison Yager, the project’s executive director. She also questioned whether the state was following its plan to prioritize reviewing people who no longer qualified and those who have not used Medicaid services.
“It raises all kinds of questions about whether people are getting their correspondence or are having trouble getting through to (the Department of Children and Families),” she said. “People still don’t know this is happening.”