Questions revolve around extra money for health care

Questions revolve around extra money for health care

House Speaker Chris Sprowls “is taking a look” at the  extension of the public health emergency and the additional funding it brings, according to  spokeswoman Jenna Sarkissian. Some lawmakers say the money needs to be used, as they worry the budget under consideration wouldn’t properly fund the Medicaid program, which provides health care to 4.7 million poor, elderly, and disabled people in the state.

But Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean told The News Service of Florida that, “I don’t now know that we are including it.” He added that the money is a one-time infusion and is not a recurring source of funding for Medicaid. For now, Bean said the plan is for the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which administers the state’s Medicaid program, to submit a budget amendment in the summer and put the additional funding in reserves.

Though the Biden administration said it planned to keep the public health emergency — and the additional funding — intact through the end of 2021, legislative leaders haven’t included the money in budget proposals. But some lawmakers question why the money would go into reserves and not be used to help reduce Medicaid waiting lists for long-term care programs and programs that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Congress agreed last year to increase the federal matching rate by 6.2 percentage points to help states pay for Medicaid as enrollment in the program soared during the pandemic. The Biden administration issued a 90-day extension of the COVID-19 public-health emergency. Medicaid is jointly funded by the state and federal governments, and Florida will receive roughly $400 million in additional money because of a continued boost in the federal share of money.

Sen. Audrey Gibson agreed, noting that the proposed House and Senate health-care budgets would make permanent a controversial move to eliminate a 90-day retroactive period the federal government allows for people to sign up for Medicaid. To save $100 million, Florida has required people to sign up for Medicaid the same month they become eligible. If they don’t, they are responsible for any health-care bills they accrue. ‘It certainly would go a long way for children and families who are struggling. It would go a long way for seniors who are on wait lists,” Rep. Allison Tant. “It would go a long way to help human beings, which is what I think we’re supposed to do here.”

Early versions of the House and Senate budgets also proposed slashing Medicaid payment rates for hospitals. But those proposed budgets were based on December 2020 forecasts. Economists updated estimates this month, showing lawmakers would have an additional $2 billion in general revenue than previously anticipated. “The fact that we have nearly 1 million people uninsured, the fact that people are accumulating Medicaid bills until they apply for Medicaid, why would we leave $400 million on the table?” Gibson said. “It’s an embarrassment if we do.” The policy has been temporary, but the House and Senate have proposed making it permanent.

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