Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Failure to Expand Medicaid Costs Florida Millions

TALLAHASSEE, FL – It's been two years since the onset of Medicaid expansion, and a new report says it's paying off for states that have helped close their "coverage gaps" with economic benefits for health-care systems and the people they serve. But Florida is missing out.

More than a half-million Floridians can't afford marketplace health insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid. The research pointed to a ripple effect on the stability of the state's health-care delivery system.

Florida House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, chief executive of Florida Community Health Action Information Network (CHAIN), blamed the Legislature's failure to act for Florida hospitals having to cut staff and reduce services.

"I'm talking about the providers dealing with people who need health insurance, who are in poverty many times, who are working full-time jobs," he said, "and so that economic impact to those hospitals is really unjust."

According to the report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, hospitals and clinics in Medicaid expansion states report opening new facilities, buying new equipment and hiring staff. To date, 31 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to expand Medicaid. Report co-author Jack Hoadley, a research professor at the Georgetown center, said states that have expanded Medicaid have seen major reductions in the amount of uncompensated care delivered by safety-net institutions, signifcant drops in the number of uninsured residents and budget savings for hospitals and community health centers.

"This is the kind of ripple effect," Hoadley said. "It's not just the patient now comes in and gets a service, or now comes in and is able to pay for the service as opposed to receiving charity care, but the dollars that are saved -- or the dollars that are brought in to these institutions -- really are used in ways that really fundamentally change the way care is delivered."

Pafford said he finds it ironic that Gov. Rick Scott has taken such a strong stand against Medicaid expansion but is asking the federal government for more money to help prevent and monitor the spread of the Zika virus in Florida.

"So, at a time where the state's ability to respond should be at its greatest," Pafford said, "he turned his back on Medicaid expansion, which was the delivery of those dollars to react to Zika."

Opponents of expanding Medicaid often claim it will place a higher financial burden on state budgets, but the report found fiscal benefits for many expansion states -- from $25 million in savings in Kentucky to $100 million in Washington state.

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