Editorial: The human cost of slashing Medicaid

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Published June 27, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no choice Tuesday but to postpone voting this week on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is just as devastating as the version passed by the House. The Congressional Budget Office's estimate that Senate bill would eliminate health care coverage for 22 million Americans by 2026 was a killer, and the report exposes the bill's fundamental flaws. Now Americans should give their senators an earful over the Fourth of July recess and demand a bipartisan effort to make health care more affordable and accessible.

The Senate legislation was rejected by moderate Republicans who consider it too harsh and conservative Republicans who want more drastic changes. That made it impossible for even a dealmaker like McConnell to get enough votes to pass the bill this week. Voters should use this timeout to insist on better and remind senators of what's at stake in their own families and communities. Here's an idea: Tell Sen. Marco Rubio to come out of the shadows and hold a town hall meeting to hear from his constituents.

One of the key failures of the Senate bill involves Medicaid. The CBO projects the bill would cut Medicaid funding by $772 billion over the next decade, and spending would be 26 percent lower by 2026 than current law. The cuts undoubtedly would grow and Medicaid enrollment would decline even further in future years. The new caps on spending per enrollee would be particularly harmful in Florida, which already ranks 48th in spending per Medicaid recipient.

Gov. Rick Scott was in Washington and working on the Senate bill Tuesday before the vote was postponed. Scott wants Congress to give the states block grants for Medicaid and let states design their own programs. But even the governor acknowledges Florida doesn't get as much federal money as it should now for Medicaid, and it's difficult to imagine how the state could manage Medicaid with a set amount of federal money without further limiting benefits or cutting enrollment.

The liberal Center for American Progress estimates the Senate bill would reduce the number of Medicaid recipients in Florida by more than 1.2 million by 2026. Not even Scott or Rubio should be able to accept denying health care to that many Floridians.

10 facts about Medicaid in Florida

3.9 million: Floridians enrolled in Medicaid

455,257: Residents enrolled in Medicaid in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties

59 percent: Portion of Medicaid recipients who are children

49 percent: Portion of births covered by Medicaid

47 percent: Portion of all children who are covered by Medicaid

4th: Florida's national ranking for number of Medicaid recipients despite being one of 19 states that did not expand Medicaid to more low-income individuals under the Affordable Care Act

730,000-900,000: Number of additional Floridians who would have qualified for Medicaid if the state had expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act

$26 billion: Estimated total to be spent in Florida on Medicaid for fiscal year 2016-17 ending Friday, an 11.6 percent increase from 2015-16.

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675,000: Floridians on Medicare who rely on Medicaid for help with Medicare premiums, cost-sharing and services not covered by Medicare such as long-term care

60 percent: Portion of total nursing home and other long-term care costs in Florida covered by Medicaid.

Sources: State of Florida, Urban Institute, Times research