For 19-and-20-year-olds, Medicaid will be a lifeline; lawmakers nix cuts in health care program for young adults

Activists demonstrate in a Florida state House office in Miami, in support of expansion of health care coverage. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It looks like young, low-income Floridians will continue to be able to access affordable health care through Medicaid now that state lawmakers have nixed cuts in health care funding for 19-and-20-year-olds.

The change comes as lawmakers wrap up the state budget for 2021-22. The legislative session is scheduled to end Friday.

In a previous Florida Senate proposal in late March, senators aimed to eliminate Medicaid coverage for young people ages 19 and 20 in Florida, according to budget records. The Florida House had not included those proposed cuts.

But in the following weeks, the Senate salvaged the program, providing a continued lifeline for the young adults. That said, both the House and Senate will have to vote and finalize the Medicaid program for young adults in the state budget.

It’s not entirely clear why the Senate changed its mind, but Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for the Florida Senate, said budget estimates were revised and “many of the cuts initially contemplated in the Senate budget were avoided.”

“We applaud legislators for coming together and maintaining Medicaid coverage for young adult Floridians,” said Anne Swerlick, senior policy analyst at the Florida Policy Institute.

“Coverage is key for keeping them healthy, able to go to school, to work and not face daunting medical debt as they transition to adulthood.”

Currently, the state’s Medicaid program requires young adults to meet strict income requirements to gain health coverage but they don’t have to prove a disability, according to Swerlick, of FPI.

According to a legislative analysis, coverage for 19 and 20-year-olds under Florida’s Medicaid program is listed as an “optional eligible group” and available to those “who are unmarried or whose marriage was annulled.”

Other priority groups that can receive Medicaid coverage include pregnant women and children meeting certain criteria and residents receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

“We’re happy that the state is continuing this important investment in young adults who will ultimately contribute to our economy,” Scott Darius, executive director of the Florida Voices for Health, said in an email to the Phoenix.

Young people 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.

Keep in mind that the program for 19-and-20-year-olds is only one part of the Medicaid program.

State lawmakers are not looking to expand Florida’s Medicaid program overall, which would increase access to health services for the state’s vulnerable population. Florida is among 12 or so states which have refused to expand Medicaid – a program for mainly low-income families to help pay for health services.