TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — State officials on Wednesday pushed back on criticism that they’re mishandling a review of who qualifies for Florida’s Medicaid program.
After freezing things during the nation's COVID-19 health emergency, Florida restarted its annual redetermination process for Medicaid recipients in April. Since then— the state has shed more than 9% of its nearly 5.8 million users.
Those dropped have complained of poor communication and little warning, like Liz Adams, who told us in May at least two of her kids lost coverage without warning.
"I'm mad," Adams said. "I am mad— I do not understand how they can do this to a child."
Frustrated Floridians, like Adams, have reported confusing information, hours-long wait times on the phone, and dropped calls.
"There’s no one else I can talk to — not even the doctors' offices can do anything," she said.
State officials rebuffed the condemnation, telling a state Senate panel that Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration and Department of Children and Families were hard at work to make the process as easy as possible. Administrators said the state has 2,700 staff members on hand and a "robust" communications strategy to alert Medicaid recipients. They’ve sent millions of texts and emails and reported an 87% response rate.
"S o— there was a lot of resources and effort that the department put in in order to make sure this was a successful redetermination," Casey Penn, DCF deputy secretary, said. "No one cares about children and families in the State of Florida more than the department does — we kind of put our money where our mouth is."
Fifty advocacy groups say it isn’t enough, however. They sent a letter to the governor, urging a pause to redeterminations until improvements are made. Tens of thousands, they warn, are losing coverage and haven’t found an alternative. Kids in particular— as 250,000 were dropped, but only 67,000 have signed up for alternative state coverage.
"This means that there are still tens of thousands of youth who are unaccounted for, and these numbers do not provide confidence that children and families are being seamlessly transitioned to other forms of care," CEO of Florida Policy Institute Sadaf Knight said. "There is still a significant and concerning gap between children being disenrolled from Medicaid and making it onto KidCare, which must be addressed."
Some of the Senate Democrats who attended the Wednesday meeting echoed concerns from advocates. Sen. Tracie Davis (D-Jacksonville) said she had been hearing complaints from her constituents.
"We can’t negate folks calling our offices saying they're not getting through," Davis said. "That’s something we still have to address."
Republicans, meanwhile, saw progress in the presentation from state officials. Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) was among them.
"We’re learning as we do this," she said. "It's not a simple process — but I think we’re on the right track."
A track that still has a way to go as Florida moves forward with its review, expected to continue into March of next year. The state said, as of September, there were 2.4 million who still needed an eligibility review.