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HHS expresses concern over the number of Florida kids dropped from Medicaid

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra
Mariam Zuhaib
/
AP
Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote in a letter to nine governors that "HHS takes its oversight and monitoring role during the renewals process extremely seriously and will not hesitate to take action to ensure states’ compliance."

As enrollment numbers continue to drop, Health and Human Services wrote to Florida and eight other states asking them to work with federal authorities to find solutions and get people insured again.

Florida is one of nine states that received a letter Monday from the Biden administration expressing concern about the large share of children the state has removed from its Medicaid program during the “redetermination” process.

In the letter, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urged Florida to work with federal authorities to find solutions and get people insured again.

According to the agency, barriers to coverage, such as a failure to expand Medicaid, are leading children and youth to fall through the cracks.

“I urge you to ensure that no eligible child in your state loses their health insurance due to ‘red tape’ or other bureaucratic barriers during the Medicaid enrollment process,” agency Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote in the letter addressed to Gov. Ron DeSantis. “This is especially important for communities of color and underserved communities across the country.”

Florida has taken about 380,000 children off Medicaid during an “redetermination” process that began in spring, which the Biden administration ended the COVID-19 public health emergency.

As of Monday, overall enrollment in Florida Medicaid dropped below 5 million in November. The program totaled 4,946,551 beneficiaries in November, down from 5,105,874 in October, according to data posted online by the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

However, many people – including children – still qualified but were removed due to administrative issues and paperwork. Also, some families never received letters in the mail requesting income information or call wait times to state agencies have been too long.

Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal and state governments

The federal government declared the public health emergency in 2020 as the pandemic began. As part of the emergency, Washington agreed to pick up more of the tab for Medicaid. In exchange for the extra money, states had to agree that they wouldn’t drop people during the emergency.

Florida’s program grew from about 3.8 million beneficiaries in January 2020 to nearly 5.78 million in April of this year. At least in part, the increase stemmed from the program being unable to drop people who otherwise might not qualify because of their income levels.

Since the emergency ended, Medicaid enrollment has steadily declined, and the redetermination process is continuing.

Other states whose governors received letters were Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.

Along with Florida, these states account for about 60% of the decline in children’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program enrollment from March through September, according to HHS.

"HHS takes its oversight and monitoring role during the renewals process extremely seriously and will not hesitate to take action to ensure states’ compliance with federal Medicaid requirements," Becerra wrote.

A federal judge held a hearing last week in a potential class-action lawsuit that alleges the state has not provided adequate information to Medicaid beneficiaries before dropping them. As of midday Monday, Jacksonville-based U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard had not ruled on a request by plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction.

Information from WLRN’s Verónica Zaragovia and the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Copyright 2023 Health News Florida

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.
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