Florida Bill Would Make It Harder for the Poor to Access Medicaid

Florida State Sen. Aaron Bean
Florida State Sen. Aaron Bean Florida House of Representatives
While the Democratic party's left flank is pushing lawmakers to extend Medicare to all citizens and/or create a "single-payer" healthcare system similar to those in every other developed nation on earth, many Florida Republicans are still coming up with new ways to chip away at healthcare access in the Sunshine State.

Case in point: Jacksonville State Sen. Aaron Bean last week filed a bill that if enacted would permanently eliminate the state's Medicaid and Medicare "retroactive eligibility" rules, which allow the poor and elderly to be reimbursed for unplanned medical costs. As it stands, Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in America — only four states have a higher proportion.

The News Service of Florida first reported on the bill yesterday. But cutting these specific Medicaid benefits has apparently been one of the Florida GOP's priorities for a while. Midway through last year, the state asked Donald Trump's Medicare and Medicaid administrator, Seema Verma, to let Florida cut the current "retroactive eligibility" window from 90 to 30 days. Verma approved that measure, claiming nonsensically it would encourage poor residents to sign up for Medicaid or Medicare. (Data do not back that claim up.) While the decision did not impact children or pregnant women, the cuts were expected to affect the coverage of nearly 40,000 Floridians while cutting $98 million from the state's annual medical budget.

"This feature of the demonstration is designed to encourage enrollment as soon as possible, to facilitate receipt of preventive care and other needed services, and to reduce Medicaid costs, with the ultimate objective of improving beneficiary health," Verma wrote in a letter to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration secretary.

Verma is a partisan actor here. While the federal Medicaid administrator is not supposed to weigh in on government policy, she has been accused of violating the Hatch Act by advocating against Medicare-for-All-style legislation. Last year, the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a formal complaint against Verma after she made a (complete dud of a) joke saying the "scariest thing" on Halloween last year was the idea of Medicare-for-All.

But the federal government is only letting Florida cut the reimbursement period to 30 days as a "trial" run — state lawmakers and the federal government must agree to extend the aid cuts by June 30 or the state's rules will revert. Bean, a conservative Republican, wants to make those cuts permanent. Bean is a bit more honest than Verma. He reportedly said he wants the state to spend less money on Medicare and Medicaid.

That is a cruel approach to state budgeting: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida's uninsured rate increased between 2017 and 2018, and more than 2.6 million Floridians — almost 13 percent of the state population — went without health coverage at some point in 2017. Bean's proposal does nothing to help those people.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.