Worried kids will lose health care coverage, Florida Democrats send letter to Gov. DeSantis

kathy castor
'It is critical that Florida begin making plans now.'

There was no talk during the 2022 Session of what steps the state would take to ensure children don’t lose health care coverage after the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Florida Democrats want assurances that the Gov. Ron DeSantis administration will do its best to ensure children don’t become uninsured.

Led by Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa Bay, congressional Democrats sent DeSantis a letter Wednesday posing several questions including whether the state would make its plans public.

Florida currently has 2.7 million children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly referred to as CHIP.  At least 400,000 of the children have been enrolled in one of the two programs since March 2020, when the public health emergency took effect.

“It is critical that Florida begin making plans now to prevent a mass disenrollment of children from their health insurance at the conclusion of the public health emergency,” the Representatives wrote in the letter. “We look forward to working with you to meet our shared goal of keeping Floridians healthy and enrolled in high-quality coverage. “

There are more than 5 million people enrolled in Medicaid in Florida today, an all-time high. The record number of enrollees is attributable to the bad economy and a prohibition on the state removing anyone from the program during the public health emergency (PHE). As long as the emergency remained, and Florida continued to draw down enhanced federal funding for the Medicaid program, the state could not, with few exceptions, remove anyone from Medicaid.

Since March 2020, only people who move out of state, die or ask to be disenrolled from Medicaid can be disenrolled.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) determines Medicaid eligibility in Florida. But the Medicaid program is administered by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which contracts with managed care plans to provide benefits.

The Georgetown University Center for Children and Families estimates that as many as 6.7 million children nationally could be disenrolled from Medicaid and CHIP when the public health emergency associated with COVID-19 expires. The report shows Florida’s children are some of the most at risk.

Researchers there estimate that as many as 2.9 million children may reenroll in public health programs after initially losing coverage, but about 3.8 million children will have to find other insurance coverage or will fall into the ranks of the uninsured.

The report holds recommendations to lessen the fallout. Analysts suggest that states can boost the number of staff at eligibility and call centers; increase funding for community-based outreach and application assistance; expand the ways enrollees can submit needed information; and work with Medicaid managed care organizations and health care providers to update contact information and remind their members that the state will be resuming eligibility redeterminations.

It’s not clear whether Florida is following any of the suggested recommendations in the report.

Florida Politics first requested to speak to DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris regarding the state’s redetermination plans in February. Florida Politics made another request to interview Harris this week, but the department did not respond.

AHCA also did not respond to a Florida Politics request for information regarding the state’s upcoming plans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers did not increase the number of staff at DCF to plan which was one of the recommendations.

Medicaid pays the health care costs for the poor, elderly and disabled and is jointly funded by the state and federal governments.

As of Jan. 31, there were 5 million people enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program, most of them receiving care through managed care plans. In February 2020, prior to the pandemic, there were 3.77 million people enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program.

Congress agreed in 2020 to provide states a 6.2% bump in the amount of federal funds used to pay for the Medicaid program as the public health emergency disrupted the national economy. The additional funding came with the mandate that states cannot remove anyone from the Medicaid rolls so long as the public health emergency is in effect.

With the emergency lifted, and the additional 6.2% increase in funding gone, states are expected to begin redetermination immediately. Florida normally requires children ages 5-19 and certain adults to be determined eligible for Medicaid every six months.

Jodi A. Ray is the director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. She has dedicated her career to helping uninsured residents in Florida obtain health care coverage. After passage of Obamacare, Ray spearheaded the state’s navigator efforts.

Under the federal health care law, navigators help people understand the potential health options available for them, whether that’s traditional Medicaid or coverage through the federal health care marketplace. Florida has led the nation in Obamacare enrollment in part because of Ray and her efforts.

“Florida should actively take all available steps to ensure that those individuals who will be affected by the unwinding of the PHE, are provided every opportunity for assistance by ensuring they are able to enroll in those other coverage options,” she said in a prepared statement, referring to CHIP and the federal marketplace.

“This can be done effectively, in part, if the state works collaboratively with navigators and other trained assisters across Florida who have the expertise in those coverage options to help people navigate health coverage programs.”

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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