Expanding Medicaid could save Florida money, study says

Published Nov. 16, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Under the federal health care law, Florida lawmakers have the option of adding roughly 950,000 people to the Medicaid rolls, with the federal government covering most of the initial costs.

Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly expressed reservations about the cost of allowing more people access to this health insurance program for the needy and the poor.

But a report released Thursday by the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University concludes Florida could expand Medicaid and add 800,000 to 1.3 million uninsured Floridians to the rolls "without assuming any new net costs."

The researchers determined the state could save up to $100 million a year because allowing people to join Medicaid would reduce the financial burden on other state-funded safety net programs.

"It is time for Florida's elected officials to take a serious look at this option," said Joan Alker, research associate professor at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute. "Our study found that the state can actually save money while ensuring that a million Floridians can get the health coverage they desperately need. And this decision affects all Floridians as Florida's hospitals will be put in jeopardy if the state does not move forward."

Scott spokesman Jackie Schutz said Scott "looks forward to having a conversation that is solution-oriented."

"Gov. Scott wants to work with HHS (Health and Human Services) to identify health care solutions that are good for Florida families by reducing cost and improving quality and access in health care," she said. "He has said that just saying 'no' is not an acceptable answer."

The report was authorized and funded by Jacksonville's Jessie Ball duPont Fund and the Winter Park Health Foundation, part of a research series on Florida's Medicaid program.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the new costs for expanding Medicaid during the first three years and has agreed to foot 90 percent or more of it until 2020.

Scott has said he worries about the burden on the state budget beyond that period. He points out that the state's current Medicaid expenses are a third of the total budget, $20 billion, even though Florida's eligibility rules are stricter than most states.

But health experts and patients rights organizations say many of the state's 3.8 million uninsured residents will continue to receive care they can't pay for in hospital emergency rooms without the Medicaid expansion, so costs are passed down to other Floridians in the form of higher insurance premiums.