Florida Close to Medicaid Crisis

Enrollment in Medicaid is booming, thanks in large part to the recession. According to a new report, 3.5 million more Americans signed up last year, and in Florida Medicaid is growing even faster.

For Hope Frazier, the price tag on private health insurance is a lot more than she can afford. But with a disability, she can't very well afford to go without care, either.

That's why she's on Medicaid, a program in the midst of a nation-wide boom. Most of her care is completely covered by the government, a much better deal than the alternative.

“I would just have to lay in my apartment,” she said. “I mean, I wouldn't be able to go anywhere, because I don't get enough to live on it all.”

With the recession costing more people their jobs, Hope isn't alone. A new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds Medicaid enrollment here in Florida has grown by 16 percent, double the national average.

If you think the jump in enrollment now is bad, just wait for the full impact of federal health care reform. Over the next decade, a million more Floridians will be added to the Medicaid rolls, costing the state well over a billion dollars a year.

“Medicaid has become the pac-man of the Florida budget!”

Dominic Calabro with Florida TaxWatch worries the state doesn't have enough money to keep up with the growth. Short of raising taxes, he says about the only way to make ends meet is to make Medicaid more efficient. Ultimately, that could mean offering fewer benefits.

“The way it's designed is it's not really preventative health care,” Calabro said. “It's very costly, after-the-fact health care, usually in more costly settings. So, we've got to change the very design of it.”

But, tell that to people like Hope. She's happy with Medicaid exactly the way it is now. If Florida has to make sacrifices elsewhere, so be it.

“We don't need with the roads this and the roads that,” she said. “We've lived with them this long; we can do with them for a few more years until we can get our budget straightened out.”

The bottom line: something has to give, or Florida could be on the verge of a full-blown Medicaid crisis.

TaxWatch is also calling for a crackdown on Medicaid fraud, saying overbilling and false claims cost the state tens-of-millions of dollars every year.

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