A wave of false news stories has emerged in the last few weeks spinning tall tales of a healthcare catastrophe unfolding in Florida. The narrative features victims of bureaucratic red tape being suddenly “kicked off” of the state’s Medicaid rolls thanks to Florida’s heartless Republican state government. All of the stories feature a handful of common thematic elements that underscore the cozy relationship between progressive policy groups and reporters who are all too eager to carry their water for them.
Progressive groups have seized upon the fact that Florida’s well-organized game plan to bring the state’s Medicaid program back to reality has resulted in a number of people being removed from the state’s rolls early in the process, including most for procedural, rather than eligibility reasons. After more than three years of carrying large numbers of potentially-ineligible people on the Medicaid rolls, the federal government has finally ended the pandemic emergency extension, allowing states like Florida to trim financially ineligible people in order to preserve resources for those that do qualify.
The state should be commended for wasting no time in doing so.
In fact, officials at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) have been tracking the eligibility status of every Medicaid enrollee throughout the pandemic, allowing them to identify tens of thousands of current recipients who were likely no longer eligible for the program due to an improvement in their financial situation or for other reasons. In order to quickly bring costs under control, DCF’s staff put together a game plan that included the scheduled review of likely ineligible recipients as soon as the eligibility redetermination window opened for the first time in three years this past April.
The result? High numbers of ineligible recipients immediately removed from the rolls. Also removed, though: even higher numbers of people who failed to respond to DCF’s attempts to get them to cooperate with the eligibility redetermination process. At the end of April, about 250,000 Medicaid recipients had been “disenrolled,” a number that was far higher than any other of the 14 states that began the process as soon as the window opened.
Of course, Florida also happens to be, by far, the largest of those 14 states, so higher numbers overall are to be expected.
That didn’t matter to progressive political groups and their media allies, though. At a press conference put together by the far-left Florida Policy Institute (FPI), progressives health advocates called for Florida to “pause” the eligibility program again, even though it had been on pause for the last three years. The Orlando Sentinel dutifully dropped the progressive label, just writing that “health advocates” were calling for DeSantis to stop the “purge.”
Cue the alarming state and national headlines, shrieking about a full-blown health care crisis. From the Associated Press to local television, the headlines blared:
- Kicked off Medicaid: Millions at risk as states trim rolls (Associated Press)
- More Than 1.2M Patients Have Been Booted Off Medicaid. Most Are Still Eligible (Truthout.org)
- Thousands of Floridians kicked off Medicaid, experts say most of them were still eligible (NPR)
- 250,000 Florida residents kicked off Medicaid; more expected (Tampa Bay Times)
- “Enormous policy failure”: States throw hundreds of thousands — including children — off Medicaid (Salon.com)
- 87-year-old Floridian eligible for Medicaid, kicked off anyway (WFLA-TV Tampa)
Were people actually “kicked off,” “booted off,” or “thrown off” of Medicaid? Not exactly. In almost every one of those stories, buried well below the intentionally alarming headlines, readers eventually come across factual information that explains what’s going on: those removed from the program for procedural reasons didn’t (initially, at least) respond to the 4.4 million different attempts to contact them.
DCF says they developed a plan to work with their managed care partners (who have a financial incentive to locate and assist eligible Medicaid recipients) to contact an estimated 4.6 million enrollees this year. So far, DCF says, they have sent out 4.4 million emails, text messages and phone calls in an attempt to help people comply with the federal eligibility redetermination process. When large numbers of them failed to respond by the deadline, they were administratively removed from the state’s rolls.
That’s when the progressive groups and the media pounced. But they didn’t look before they leapt. That’s because one of the provisions of the federal rules is that every one of those people have an additional 90 days to submit paperwork, after which their benefits will be retroactively restored if they are financially eligible. That’s something many of the media reports fail to mention.
Since that initial report in April, about 110,000 of those recipients have already fixed the problem, and DCF expects more will show up in the weeks ahead as their outreach continues.
Contrast that with the false claims emanating from media outlets implying that Medicaid recipients were “abruptly kicked off,” leaving them without a healthcare safety net. Whether they are intentionally lying or just ignorant of the facts, they are wrong either way. DCF isn’t just dropping people without warning. Every Medicaid recipient has provided DCF with several different contact points and indicated their language preference, which DCF uses to ensure they can stay in touch.
“When an individual is no longer eligible for Medicaid benefits, whether determined to have an income above the allowable threshold after their case is processed or terminated for no response, a notice will be provided informing them of the decision,” explained DCF Deputy Chief of Staff Mallory McManus. “The notice will be sent in their preferred language through the method selected in their MyACCESS account.”
But wait, there’s more: even if someone fails to respond to the repeated outreach attempts (DCF says they’ve tried to reach some people as many as 13 times) after the 90 day grace period, they can simply just reapply for Medicaid, and they’ll be instantly restored if they are financially eligible.
Another common misconception propelling some of the more recent misleading stories is the over-reliance on outdated data. Despite its reputation, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Medicaid Enrollment and Unwinding Tracker, a popular source for many media outlets, claims to be up-to-date through June 16th, 2023. It isn’t. KFF’s tracker is missing the latest numbers from Florida, for example, that have been on file with the federal government since June 8th. Still, large numbers of reporters continue to use Kaiser as a reliable source without fact checking.
On Saturday, Kaiser claimed its “up-to-date” data showed 82% of all disenrollments in Florida were for procedural reasons. But the real figure was actually just over 63%. And that’s expected to continue going down, too.
“The initial April numbers included in the CMS report were from a point in time for redeterminations received and work that was performed during the month of April,” McManus said. “Individuals who did not submit a redetermination application in April continue to submit late applications and the Department is processing those applications as we receive them.”
The bottom line is that Florida’s approach to managing Medicaid redeterminations focused on continuity of coverage for eligible households. The state has developed a plan that prioritizes the removal of those who may no longer wish or qualify for Medicaid coverage, effectively reducing the burden on those genuinely in need. The system also prioritizes the review of cases involving individuals who were identified as ineligible during the most recent review and those who have not used Medicaid benefits for at least 12 consecutive months.
The narrative that Florida is passively subjecting its residents to a health care crisis is also unfair to the people who administer the program, and the media’s rather serious allegations about the program are severely short on facts.
DCF’s data reveals that Florida officials have been proactive in helping eligible families maintain their healthcare benefits. Despite a considerable number of unresponsive Medicaid recipients, Florida’s response rate to redetermination attempts has been nearly double that of pre-pandemic rates, and they’ve only just started bringing the state into compliance with federal law.