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Florida Health Care Workers Fear Cuts With Medicaid Block Grant Push

(Image: Getty)
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In 2011, the Florida legislature passed a measure to convert Medicaid insurance into a managed care system. But Republican lawmakers now want to take the program away from “big businesses” and change it into a block grant system. But Medicaid providers said if that happens low income families will lose access to health care.

A lot of lobbying goes on at Florida’s Capitol. But it’s hard to miss former basketball star Erving “Magic” Johnson hoofing it from office to office.

(Image: Getty)
The Florida Channel
(Image: Getty)

The six-foot-nine athlete is a minority stakeholder in Simply Healthcare, a Medicaid managed care company based in Miami. It’s looking to get its contract renewed with the state. Here’s Johnson’s pitch to Senate President Joe Negron.

“It was important that we got into the community," he said. "And I think that’s what sets us apart from everybody else, you know. Getting into the community, having those community town hall meetings, making sure we talk to the whole community, even if you weren’t one of our patients, but we were still talking to the community.”

Florida lawmakers are making similar arguments for block grants that they made six years ago for managed care. For the first time since 2001, Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress. Republican state lawmakers, including Governor Rick Scott, are asking Congress to block grant Medicaid money to them as Congress weigh changes to federal health policy.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said block grants are the solution. He said Florida could expand health care access by giving Medicaid recipients a fixed amount of money to buy coverage on the open market.

“Tremendous access for those working poor to get a health insurance product or a health product to help them with their health care needs that right now they currently can’t get under the current system," he said.

But just a few years ago he was calling managed care the solution. This was Corcoran in 2011 on Medicaid managed care.

“The reason I’m supporting this bill more than any other reason is the quality measures," he said. "The quality of care will be better.”

Enrollment continues to increase and so has the price tag. Medicaid Managed Care didn’t produced the savings Florida Republicans promised it would. But a block grant could mean Florida gets less money from the program than it does today.

For Melanie Sellers, the idea of cuts is frightening. She directs maternity services at Jackson Hospital in Mariana. She said most of the pregnant women served by the hospital are covered by Medicaid.

“So much stuff is caught early on and treated," she said. "If they are not able to receive the prenatal care, then we would see more morbidly and mortality among the mom and unborn child and then as a child."

Right now, the federal government picks up 60 percent of Medicaid costs in the state. Restricting more federal dollars means the state has to increase its of program costs or cut benefits. That means slashing the number of people getting services or the number of services.

Senate President Joe Negron, who now supports block grants, was a chief architect of the managed care system. But he acknowledges under block grants, cuts are possible.

“My goal wouldn’t be to reduce benefits, it would be to do the same kind of measures that are done in private plans, to have incentives,” he said.

Yet according to the Florida Hospital Association, Florida is currently dead last in Medicaid spending for children.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Sarah Mueller is the first recipient of the WFSU Media Capitol Reporting Fellowship. She’ll be covering the 2017 Florida legislative session and recently earned her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield. Sarah was part of the Illinois Statehouse press corps as an intern for NPR Illinois in 2016. When not working, she enjoys playing her yellow lab, watching documentaries and reading memoirs.