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Florida health coverage rate is better but still lags most of the U.S.

With lawmakers signaling that health issues could be a priority during next year’s legislative session, the U.S. Census Bureau reported about 11.2% of Floridians were uninsured in 2022, down from 12.1% in 2021

With top Florida lawmakers signaling that health care issues could be a priority during next year’s legislative session, a report released Thursday showed that Florida saw improvement in 2022 in people having health insurance — but still trailed most of the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau report estimated that 11.2 percent of Floridians were uninsured in 2022, down from 12.1 percent in 2021. The rates reflected insurance provided in employer-based plans and purchased privately, along with coverage through government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Only four states had higher uninsured rates than Florida in 2022: Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming, with Texas the highest at 16.6 percent, according to the report. The national rate in 2022 was 8 percent, down from 8.6 percent in 2021.

“States in the South had some of the highest uninsured rates, while states in the Northeast had some of the lowest uninsured rates,” the report said. “Of the 15 states that had uninsured rates above the national average, nine were in the South, ranging from 8.8 percent to 16.6 percent.”

The report came as Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, have indicated health care will be a focus of the 2024 legislative session, which will start in January.

While Renner and Passidomo have not released detailed proposals, Renner announced last week that he had formed the House Select Committee on Health Innovation, which he said will “review issues relating to access and affordability in health care.”

Meanwhile, Passidomo said during an appearance this summer on the News Service's “Deeper Dive with Dara Kam” podcast that she had started meeting with representatives of groups such as hospitals and nursing homes and is looking, at least in part, at increasing the number of health care providers to meet needs of the growing population.

It remains to be seen whether legislation will ultimately help more people get insured. Democrats have long called for expanding Medicaid eligibility, but Republicans have rejected the idea — with Passidomo reiterating her opposition during the podcast.

The census report Thursday said states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility had a 6.3 percent uninsured rate in 2022, while states that have not expanded eligibility had a 11.8 percent rate. Florida is one of 12 states that have not expanded eligibility to offer coverage to people who would not meet previous qualification requirements.

The report showed that of insured people in Florida, 17.8 percent received coverage through Medicaid in 2022, compared to 17.9 percent in 2021. Nationally, 21.2 percent of people received coverage through Medicaid last year.

Florida began seeing a steady increase in Medicaid enrollment in 2020 because of a public health emergency declared during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the emergency, the federal government provided more Medicaid money to states — with the caveat that states could not force people to leave Medicaid, even if, for example, the people would no longer meet income-eligibility requirements.

But the public-health emergency ended this spring, allowing states to “disenroll” people from Medicaid. Florida saw its number of Medicaid beneficiaries drop by more than 400,000 from April to July, though the effects of the decrease are not reflected in the census report detailing 2021 and 2022 numbers.

Florida’s overall improvement in the uninsured rate last year was driven, at least in part, by an increase in people getting what the report describes as “direct purchase” private coverage. Such coverage can be obtained directly from insurers or through the federal health-insurance marketplace created in the Affordable Care Act.

The percentage of insured Floridians with such coverage increased from 18.4 percent in 2021 to 18.8 percent in 2022, the report shows. Data released in January by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicated Florida had the largest number of people in the country buying coverage through the federal marketplace.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.