The Orlando Sentinel’s Op-Ed on Medicaid Unwinding
March 17, 2023 Update
Regarding Public Health Policy, oftentimes Florida manages to become the center of attention. Some of the time it’s for great news, like regularly leading the nation in numbers of Marketplace enrollees for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Other times it’s not so great, like when the state’s failure to expand Medicaid puts more pressure on local hospital Emergency Rooms. This results in ERs becoming the go-to primary medical option for residents who are uninsured.
During the national Public Health Emergency (PHE) the Federal Government stepped up with funding to provide expanded Medicaid rolls, allowing states to offer continuous health coverage to residents to help in the fight against COVID. With the PHE ending, the expanded funding availability is also ending. As Florida returns to routine post-pandemic operations, it has become necessary to “unwind”, or disenroll many residents from their Medicaid plan.
Our team at USF in Tampa works statewide with multiple engaged stakeholders in Public Health advocacy, outreach, and health coverage enrollment. Our strong coalition of partners include a team of assisters with Florida Connecting Kids to Coverage and Covering Florida programs.
It is time for Florida to make some more news and make sure that every person who is eligible for Medicaid coverage stay covered without interruption. To support our effort to help raise awareness of the unwinding, we are urging the media, elected officials at all levels, the non-profit sector, and other advocates to help us contact our state Public Health leaders and stress the importance of transparency and strong communication to ensure help is provided to the estimated million or more Florida residents who are in jeopardy of losing health coverage.
With the encouragement of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Florida’s health officials have begun to communicate to and engage the public with its unwinding plans. The unwinding of coverage has the potential to cause real harm to our state and its citizens. Enrollment data published by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration show that Medicaid enrollment has increased significantly since COVID. Most of the growth is for coverage of children and parents. This is not surprising given the loss of income, jobs, and employer-based insurance during the pandemic.
Because Florida has not yet expanded its Medicaid program, thousands of children and parents will become uninsured after the PHE continuous coverage ends. This will particularly impact low wage workers, raising Florida’s number of uninsured far above the current 2.7 million, already among the highest figure in the country.
We are concerned that certain individuals will be at increased risk of losing or experiencing a gap in coverage when the continuous enrollment requirements end and Florida resumes redeterminations and disenrollment. Enrollees who have moved or lost housing may not receive important renewal and other notices, especially if they have not updated their contact information with Florida’s Department of Children and Families. DCF is mailing “Yellow Striped” notices to let Medicaid enrollees know what they need to do to keep their Medicaid, or if no longer eligible, how to transition into other health coverage like the Affordable Care Act Marketplace or Florida KidCare. If that notice is undeliverable or gets lost, or worse, ignored by those unaware of the impending changes, beneficiaries risk losing coverage because DCF is unable to reach them.
Current beneficiaries can update their addresses on the ACCESS website (myflorida.com/accessflorida) or through the DCF call center at 850-300- 4323 or (www.myflfamilies.com/contact-us). Call center wait times are long, so DCF is encouraging beneficiaries to instead make the changes through the website. Navigators and assisters from our coalition can and will provide free assistance to any consumers in need of help and/or replacement coverage options, through our toll-free Navigator line at 877-813-9115.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, people without insurance coverage often go without medical care, including preventive care and services for major health conditions and chronic diseases, due to cost and fear of increased medical debt. We are sounding the alarm as our state must not allow the number of uninsured Floridians to unnecessarily increase because of an inability to contact those in danger of losing benefits and all of us must work together to prevent it.
Jodi Ray, Director, Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, Florida Connecting Kids to Coverage, and Covering Florida, Tampa