The number of Floridians relying on the state’s health care safety-net program continues to push higher amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newly released figures show that enrollment in Florida’s Medicaid program grew by nearly 7.7 percent between February and May, but at least one analysis puts the growth rate even higher.
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration data show that 4.06 million people were enrolled in Medicaid by the end of May. That was an increase from about 3.77 million in February, the last month before the economic shutdown and spread of COVID-19 in the state.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Children and Families has been tracking Medicaid enrollment in 15 states —- including Florida —- that make data publicly available. According to the center’s analysis, Florida has seen a nearly 10 percent jump in overall enrollment between February and May.
That’s the largest enrollment increase in the 15 states the group is tracking. Numbers released Friday by the state Department of Economic Opportunity said Florida’s unemployment rate in May was 14.5 percent, as its tourism-reliant economy suffered and businesses laid off employees.
“When a recession occurs, Medicaid enrollment goes up. Medicaid enrollment is very closely related to the state of the economy,” said Joan Alker, a Georgetown University professor who is executive director of the Center for Children and Families.
The group also is tracking the numbers of Florida children who are enrolling in Medicaid, which it said has increased 6.5 percent during the pandemic.
Established in 1965, Medicaid is funded by states and the federal government to care for poor people, seniors and people with disabilities.
The spike in Medicaid enrollment was expected after the pandemic shut down businesses, and Congress agreed to increase the federal government’s share of costs for new enrollees by 6.2 percentage points. The increase pumped $899 million into Florida’s coffers for the current fiscal year, which will end June 30, according to state budget documents.But even with the increased funding, state Medicaid officials said the influx of new people into the program could blow a $1 billion hole in the state’s budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
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