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Advocacy groups file civil rights complaint over Florida's post-pandemic Medicaid process

As of May, about two-thirds of Florida's children were enrolled in Medicaid.
As of May, about two-thirds of Florida's children were enrolled in Medicaid.

Thirteen advocacy groups -- including UnidosUS -- have jointly filed a civil rights complaint against Florida.

The groups say Florida's process for redetermining Medicaid eligibility is unfair to recipients who are Latino, immigrant or Black.

Some 431,000 Florida residents -- including many children -- have lost Medicaid since May, when the state began unwinding the continuing coverage mandated during the pandemic.

The Kaiser Family Foundation says about half were no longer eligible. The other 49% were dropped for failing to complete the renewal process.

Stan Dorn, health policy director for UnidosUS, says the state has made that process difficult for many Floridians of color and immigrants.

The groups point toan April letter from the Department Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights stressing legal requirments to address communication in different languages and the needs of disabled recipients.

Policies that in effect deny access to federal benefits based on race or national origin are illegal unless there's a compelling need for them, Dorn said. "There's no compelling need for making your website inaccessible to smartphones for making parents wait two and a half hours to talk to someone in Spanish at the call center and for saying we're not going to bother to translate training videos into any language other than English."

In a recent update, the Florida Department of Children and Families touts Florida's outreach efforts and says 89% have responded to redetermination requests.

As of May, two-thirds of Florida's children were enrolled in Medicaid.

In an emailed response to the complaint, Florida Department of Children and Families Press Secretary Miguel Nevarez said 92% of its Medicaid applications and redeterminations are through an online portal available in English, Spanish and Creole.

“Our data shows that Florida’s approach to redeterminations is solid,” he added, “and the media is grasping at woke straws to dimmish (sic) Florida’s leadership on Medicaid redeterminations. Once again left leaning advocacy groups are cherry picking data to fit their false narrative, as the data shows that ethnicity is not a factor in a person’s ability to access and retain Medicaid benefits.”

Updated: September 15, 2023 at 11:22 AM EDT
This article has been updated to include an emailed response from the press secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families that arrived after initial publication.
Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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