Medicaid expansion for moms and babies is now closer to reality in the FL Legislature

Infant. Credit: Wikipedia.

Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls declared a plan in late March to tackle inequities in maternal health care that impact women by pushing for a one-year expansion for maternal Medicaid benefits, an inititative of the Biden administration.

Now, the Florida Senate looks to be on board with the initiative, albeit, the Senate is pushing for less money compared to the House. In the last week of the 2021 legislative session, the two chambers will be negotiating this crucial initiative for women and babies.

Medicaid is a program for low-income families to help cover health care costs, but expansion in general in Florida has been controversial and difficult to pursue in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

In recent budget negotiations, the Senate has added postpartum Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and their babies, but falls short of the House’s proposal to spend nearly $240 million to extend the coverage to 12 months after babies are born.

But the Senate has proposed only $96 million. That $96-million would likely cover only six months, instead of a full year for women and their babies. The current Medicaid coverage for moms and babies is only two months, or 60 days.

The Florida House’ proposed budget includes continued state funds of about $89 million in one budget category and another $151 million in a second category to expand Medicaid coverage for that specific area. In comparison, the Senate’s proposal only included about $37 million in one category of continued funds and nearly $59 million in another one.

House Speaker Sprowls, who represents part of Pinellas County, has pushed the effort, which includes health outcomes for black women who have been disproportionately affected by lack of maternal health care.

Meanwhile, both chambers have until Tuesday (April 27) to come to an agreement on a final budget for health care, said Anne Swerlick, senior policy analyst at the Florida Policy Institute.

Many Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have been pushing for overall Medicaid expansion in the state, to help low-income residents gain health coverage amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Florida is among about 12 states that still have not expanded Medicaid and it appears that will not happen this legislative session.

While lawmakers often focus on state dollars for various programs, federal dollars also could help expand the Medicaid program and get more health coverage for Florida’s vulnerable population, Swerlick has said.