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Florida must prevent Medicaid debacle | Editorial
Ensure eligible families aren’t lost in rush to clean up the rolls
Florida has 2.4 million children on Medicaid. Thousands of those children could lose their Medicaid health insurance when COVID-19’s public health emergency ends, which is expected in July, a new report says. Miami Herald File
Florida has 2.4 million children on Medicaid. Thousands of those children could lose their Medicaid health insurance when COVID-19’s public health emergency ends, which is expected in July, a new report says. Miami Herald File [ Miami Herald ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 25, 2022

The state did a terrible job of getting unemployment aid and rental assistance to Floridians devastated by the pandemic, leaving thousands to suffer additional, needless hardship. Given that track record, which was as consistent as it was abysmal, there’s a chance another debacle’s in the making once Medicaid reviews its enrollment, which could happen this summer. The state needs to ensure that deserving Floridians don’t fall through the cracks.

Medicaid has become an essential safety net during COVID-19, with about half of all children in the United States now covered through their state’s public health insurance program for low-income and disabled Americans, including about 2.4 million kids in Florida. But as the Miami Herald reported Thursday, those gains in Medicaid coverage — fueled by income and job losses caused by the pandemic — are likely to plummet when the federal government declares an end to this public health emergency.

As soon as July, states will be required to restart annual renewals for Medicaid enrollees if they have not been able to verify eligibility — what researchers at Georgetown University say will be an enormous administrative undertaking that could lead to millions of children losing coverage for a period of time.

Prior to the pandemic, states regularly reviewed enrollees’ eligibility for Medicaid. But when states stopped purging the rolls during the pandemic, enrollment skyrocketed. In Florida alone, more than 1.3 million people have gained Medicaid coverage since March 2020, including about 400,000 children up to age 18. As of January, more than 5.1 million people were enrolled in Florida Medicaid, a record high. But Georgetown researchers estimate that up to 7 million children in the U.S. are at risk of losing coverage.

While the estimate does not include a state-by-state breakdown, the Georgetown study suggests that Florida could be “on the high end” of coverage losses. Researchers identify Florida as one of six states where kids are especially at risk because of policies that almost invite disruptions in coverage, such as not having a process for continually determining eligibility.

These are perils for disenrolled families and the economy alike. Experts warn that states need to plan now to keep eligible families from being purged from the rolls and losing their health insurance coverage. The mass review, known as “Medicaid unwinding,” could create a huge backlog as states and Medicaid managed care plans look to update information on covered patients.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with ensuring that the Medicaid rolls include only those that are legitimately covered. But the process of confirming eligibility is a massive administrative task. Attention to detail is crucial. And mistakes and delays have a real human cost. On the latter note, Florida’s disastrous administration of jobless benefits during the pandemic, and its later, laggard effort to distribute rental assistance, hardly inspire confidence the state bureaucracy is up to this latest core governmental duty.

States need to get a jump by starting to confirm the eligibility of enrollees now, by putting call centers and other technology in place to deal with customer queries and complaints and by instituting plans for responding quickly to errant lapses in coverage. Medicaid recipients should not have to face the added stress of missed medical appointments or financial crises simply because of the state’s inaction, indifference or incompetence.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.