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Anonymous warnings sent to Medicaid elderly

Someone is sending warning letters to elderly Medicaid patients about the state's plan to move them all into managed care.

The Agency for Health Care Administration, which includes Medicaid, issued a press release Wednesday about the letters, warning they could needlessly alarm elderly and disabled Medicaid patients. At the request of Health News Florida, AHCA releasedone of the letters.

The letter, signed by an unnamed "deeply concerned Florida resident," alerts the recipient to the state's plan for a Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program, passed by the Legislature in 2011 and pending federal permission. The federal government pays more than half the cost of the program.

"We all know what kind of services will be provided by an HMO," the letter says. "Let's face it, an HMO is in business to make money ... The way an HMO can MAXIMIZE its profits is to CUT services..."

The letter-writer calls the state's decision to go statewide with Medicaid managed care as "an attack on the poor and elderly by the elite political establishment."

The writer asks that Medicaid enrollees contact their elected representative or the state's Elder Helpline (800-963-5337).

In its release about the anonymous letter, AHCA said its purpose "appears to be to alarm" those enrolled in programs aimed at helping the elderly and disabled remain in their home or in community-based care, rather than in a nursing home.

The statement says that Florida Medicaid views the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program as "an opportunity to improve our current system of care." It said answers to many questions can be found online; other questions can be addressed to, or 850-41203600.

While most enrollees in the Medicaid program are impoverished children and pregnant women, most of the spending in the program is for low-income elderly and disabled patients. That high-cost group is set to go first as the state moves nearly all Medicaid patients into private HMOs and other prepaid managed-care plans.

State officials said when they passed the expansion of managed care that their aims were improved access to care and control of costs.

The Medicaid managed-care expansion will include all enrollees except those who have developmental disabilities, such as autism or Down's syndrome. The elderly enrollees who will be moved into managed care include both those in nursing facilities and in diversion programs to keep them out of institutions.

Starting this summer, assuming the state receives federal permission, AHCA and the Department of Elder Affairs will invite companies and non-profits to compete for contracts to cover Medicaid enrollees' needs. Enrollment is to be completed by October 2013.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Editor Carol Gentry can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.