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Florida continues to turn down federal dollars in the middle of a pandemic


While there may be some Florida resources providing free testing, it’s a patchwork that varies widely around the state and is not well-publicized. Moreover, the capacity of these state resources to meet the need is limited.

At a moment when COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising dramatically, Florida leadership is opting to leave federal relief dollars on the table. This time, state leaders are turning down 100% federal Medicaid funding for COVID-19 testing for the uninsured. These funds have been available since mid-March and will continue to be available through the end of the public health emergency. Twenty-one states have already opted in. This is low hanging fruit for Florida policymakers.

Experts agree that COVID-19 testing is an essential strategy to contain the virus and safely re-open the schools and economy. Barriers to testing have grave public health consequences when a large share of the population is left out.

One group at great risk are the 2.7 million uninsured Floridians under age 65. About 200,000 live in Palm Beach County. And these numbers are growing during the pandemic as people lose jobs and health coverage. Research shows that uninsured people are far more likely than those with insurance to postpone health care or forgo it altogether due to cost. This is even more likely during an economic downturn.

For an uninsured person in the time of COVID-19, this means opting to skip or delay testing out of genuine fear of having to pay out-of-pocket costs. Indeed, recent media reports describe people receiving medical bills of thousands of dollars for COVID-19 testing.

It’s also crucial to highlight the disproportionate share of people of color who are uninsured, including 1 million Hispanic and 477,700 Black Floridians. This is no doubt exacerbating the alarming trend of people of color experiencing significantly higher rates of infection and death due to the virus .

While there may be some Florida resources providing free testing, it’s a patchwork that varies widely around the state and is not well-publicized. Moreover, the capacity of these state resources to meet the need is limited.

In contrast, if Florida accepted the federal Medicaid testing dollars, it would ensure funding for every uninsured Floridian needing testing. More would be encouraged to get tested without fear of racking up enormous medical bills. Moreover, these new federal dollars could replace state dollars, thereby freeing up resources for additional testing and other health initiatives to fight the pandemic.

Uninsured Floridians are suffering from a double whammy in Florida — not only have state leaders refused to accept federal COVID-19 testing dollars; they continue opting to not expand Florida’s Medicaid program. Thirty-eight states and D.C. have already opted to expand their respective Medicaid programs, increasing access to health care for thousands of their residents and bringing in billions more in federal dollars to boost their economies.

Expanding Florida’s Medicaid program could provide coverage to over 900,000 uninsured Floridians for COVID-19 testing and treatment, along with treatment for underlying medical conditions. Unfortunately, turning down federal dollars in this state, both for COVID-19 testing and Medicaid expansion, seems to be a recurring theme. These decisions, especially in the middle of a pandemic, put all Floridians in harm's way.

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