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Report says Medicaid expansion would help Florida patients with mental problems, substance abuse disorders

Expanding Medicaid would greatly help the nearly 1 million uninsured Floridians who have a substance abuse or mental health issue.

That according to a policy brief released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report examines how Medicaid expansion would affect people with a substance-use disorder or mental illness.

In particular, it focuses on the 19 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid (such as Florida) and issues such as substance abuse disorders, and mental and behavioral health programs that often go untreated among poor and uninsured people.

“Medicaid expansion offers clear benefits to states,” Vikki Wachino, director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said on a conference call with media outlets.

Wachino noted that in states where Medicaid has been expanded to cover more patients, there’s been a decrease in residents skipping medication, along with those having trouble paying medical bills. Additionally, Wachino said the expansion is saving hospital systems billions of dollars.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. Louisiana will soon be the 31st.

The Florida House last year voted down a proposal to expand Medicaid, arguing that paying for the program over the long term would be too expensive.

However, states that expand the program see big reductions  in the amount of uncompensated care provided by hospitals, said Richard Frank, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“That goes straight to the bottom line of hospitals that are often stretched. People with mental health and substance abuse disorders tend to be disproportionately uninsured, so they contribute quite a bit to that uncompensated care amount. That’s one financial impact that expansion would have.

“The consequences of a state’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion are far-reaching and have major implications for the health of their citizens,” Frank said.

The Affordable Care Act provides coverage to states for the full cost of Medicaid expansion through 2016. Then financial support drops down to 90 percent by 2020, although President Barack Obama has since proposed that the federal government fund 100 percent of the cost for three full years to any state that expands Medicaid.

Written By

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at

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