A battle in Washington over money for Medicaid affects 41 percent of Palm Beach County children, or more than 116,000, research released Wednesday says.
It’s an even bigger share in rural counties. For example, Medicaid covers 64 percent of the children in Okeechobee County, according to research announced by Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina and the Florida Policy Institute.
“When Florida children and families have health insurance coverage, the whole state benefits,” said Joseph F. Pennisi, executive director of the Lake Mary-based Florida Policy Institute. “Providing greater access to care can equate to fewer visits to emergency rooms, less uncompensated care and more people getting—and staying—healthy.”
The American Health Care Act passed by the House would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over a decade compared to leaving the Affordable Care Act intact. The Senate is considering the biggest legislative issue of President Trump’s early term now.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, faced mostly hostile questions about the AHCA in a town hall meeting in Stuart Monday. He told questioners Medicaid spending will still rise and that what are called reductions include a winding down of Medicaid expansion that Florida chose not to pursue in the first place: “This is not a cut.”
Critics of the House bill counter that Floridians on Medicaid — who also include 70 percent of the seniors in nursing homes — stand to lose if Medicaid funding is capped and handed to the states in block grants.
If Florida’s Medicaid money from the U.S. government had been capped to grow no more than the inflation rate from 2001 to 2011, the state would have received 17 percent less money than it actually did, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found in March. That’s not precisely the formula the House bill would use, but the analysis highlighted the challenges of getting a capped amount right in a state where a lot of new people tend to move in, or live longer, or need more services than forecast. That would have left Florida among the 10 states hit hardest with billions of dollars in shortfalls, the analysis said, forcing tough choices to cut coverage or services, slash other spending or raise taxes.
“Medicaid provides critical access to life-saving treatment and protection from rising health care costs to many children and families living in small towns and rural America,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “Cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs would take those protections away from many and risk financial ruin, denial of health care, or both.”
By 2015, the share of Palm Beach County’s children covered by Medicaid grew to 41 percent from 27 percent six years earlier, officials said. In the same span, the number of children lacking insurance in Palm Beach County was almost cut in half to 24,480, the research showed.
Overall, 57 percent of children in Florida’s small towns and rural areas receive Medicaid coverage and 44 percent do so in urban areas, the research found.
Children on Medicaid
County / Number / % of co. children on Medicaid
Palm Beach 116,570 41%
Martin 9,470 35%
St. Lucie 34,450 54%
Indian River 13,110 49%
Okeechobee 6,090 64%
Hendry 6,750 61%
Broward 179,900 43%
Miami-Dade 293,300 50%
Notes: 2014-5 data
Source: Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, University of North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, Florida Policy Institute