19- & 20-year-olds: ‘We are pushing these young people over the cliff from being insured to being uninsured’

Protestors carry signs as they demonstrate against proposed cuts to health care programs, including Medicaid. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Young people ages 19 and 20 who rely on affordable health coverage could see their Medicaid coverage eliminated — which could push low-income youths into a crisis mode, health advocates say.

State lawmakers in the Florida Senate have proposed cutting Medicaid coverage for those with low incomes in that age group in its 2021-22 state budget, budget records show. House members have not included the proposed cut in its budget, so the issue will be negotiated during the legislative session.

If the massive state budget is approved by the Florida Legislature, cutting that program would result in nearly a $67.3 million reduction in continued state funds.

Medicaid is designed to help residents from mainly low-income backgrounds gain health coverage.

“Bottom line we are pushing these young people over the cliff from being insured to being uninsured,” Anne Swerlick, senior policy analyst at Florida Policy Institute, said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix.

Young people in that age range currently receiving Medicaid coverage have very low incomes, “no more than $343 per month,” and oftentimes they are struggling to continue their education or assist with taking care of children in their households,” according to an analysis by The Florida Policy Institute.

“It is just unconscionable,” Swerlick said. “Often these are people trying to continue their education…a large chunk are homeless young people.”

The group is opposed to the proposed cut at a time when health insurance is needed during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now of all time, in the midst of a pandemic…people are going to be struggling to get back into jobs. So its mystifying why we would choose to pick on this group and take away coverage,” Swerlick said.

The Medicaid program currently requires young adults to meet income and other strict requirements to gain insurance without proving disability, Swerlick added.

In the analysis, FPI warned of a gap in health coverage for younger Florida residents.

“Without Medicaid coverage, once these individuals turn 18, they would become uninsured and fall into the coverage gap because Florida has not expanded its Medicaid program,” the group wrote. “Landing in the coverage gap means that someone is too poor to purchase subsidized insurance through the federal marketplace, but at the same time unable to meet stringent Florida Medicaid eligibility requirements.”

Meanwhile, another Senate bill, SPB 2518, has the same language to eliminate coverage for younger people in Florida. According to the bill analysis, coverage for 19 and 20-year-olds under Florida’s Medicaid program is listed as an “optional eligible group.”

“Medicaid is provided to individuals who are 19 and 20-years-old who are unmarried or whose marriage was annulled,” the bill analysis states. Other priority groups that can receive Medicaid coverage include pregnant women and children meeting certain criteria and residents receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, Florida is among at least twelve states that have not expanded Medicaid for low-income residents, according to a report by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

President Joe Biden’s massive federal COVID-19 relief package included financial incentives for Florida and other states to adopt Medicaid expansion, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he is against the expansion.

Scott Darius, executive director of the Florida Voices for Health said in an email to the Phoenix:

“It is fiscally irresponsible to cut Medicaid while Florida has the opportunity to return billions of our federal tax dollars to the state and achieve millions in savings by accepting Medicaid expansion.”