Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

FL Medicaid Enrollment Expands

Florida’s Republican lawmakers remain staunchly opposed to expanding Medicaid — a system they’ve repeatedly said is too expensive and doesn’t improve health outcomes. Yet Florida’s Medicaid rolls are expanding under the Affordable Care Act whether Florida likes it or not.

That’s because people trying to sign up for health insurance under President Obama’s new health law are finding out — to their surprise — that they qualify for Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor.

Some 245,000 Floridians were added to the Medicaid rolls between October and the end of February, about 3.2 million overall. That’s an increase of more than 8 percent. The Sunshine State is one of 10 states that accounted for more than 80 percent of the 3 million new Medicaid enrollees under the Affordable Care Act, according to Avalere Health, a market research firm.

But Florida was the only state of the 10 that didn’t accept federal funding to expand Medicaid.  That means that, instead of the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, it will pay about 60 percent of Florida’s bill, with the state paying 40 percent.

Florida’s newest enrollees include more than 51,000 children, according to health advocacy group Florida CHAIN.

As parents began applying for their own health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, they discovered that their children were eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Many weren’t enrolled.

“It has been an eye-opening experience to learn how many families were not aware that their children could be covered for health care and heart-warming to give them the good news. I see immediate relief and gratitude in their eyes and words,” said Lynne Thorp, an enrollment counselor in Fort Myers.

Lawmakers repeatedly acknowledged last year that the massive advertising campaigns, enrollment drives and celebrity endorsements surrounding Obama’s health law would likely lead to an increase in regular Medicaid enrollment.

That’s what happened to Donna Refuse, 44, when she tried to sign up for insurance as the marketplace first opened in early October. The unemployed Miami mother of two thought that people without an income — like herself — would have access to affordable insurance.

Refuse was shocked when she was informed that she didn’t qualify for a tax credit under the health care law. But she learned that she did qualify for Medicaid.

“It makes me feel better. Now I can go to a doctor and see if anything is wrong,” said Refuse.

Lawmakers will have to grapple with the fact that the state’s Medicaid costs will rise.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, when asked about the increase in those signing up for regular Medicaid and the added cost to the state, turned the conversation to Medicaid expansion.

“A lot of the people who would have gotten insurance under Medicaid expansion are going online and they are buying it through the exchange. That’s a good thing,” he said.