Blaming the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Florida Governor Rick Scott wrote in lie-filled letter dated August 4, 2015, “Obamacare is escalating the cost of healthcare at a breakneck pace. We must immediately implement all options available to us to offset the new Medicaid costs and work to produce more saving in every part of our healthcare system.” Scott, a Tea Party darling and Koch Brother favorite, used this lie as an excuse to force the state to purge 9,000 economically disadvantaged children from the Florida medical system to save money:
“…about 9,000 Florida children who have been purged from Children’s Medical Services [CMS] since May as part of a wholesale reorganization of the program in conjunction with a new state law…The overhaul of CMS is a story about rationing of services for children who are poor and disabled, a long tradition in Florida. It is about the malleable nature of words like “moratorium,” and about numbers on a balance sheet.”
Florida had a long tradition of excellent healthcare until about 15 or 20 years ago, and CMS’ success generated new demands for care, which disturbed Florida lawmakers:
“…as enrollment leapfrogged from 58,843 in budget year 2010 to 70,513 by 2014…Increased enrollment meant more spending. CMS Medicaid claims increased by nearly $100 million from 2010 to 2014, from $713.3 million to $811.1 million, according to the state Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, the research arm of the Florida Legislature.”
As a consequence of the additional costs – at a time when Florida is running a budget surplus – the state has looked to reduce the number of eligible children to fund new tax breaks for the rich.
“The Miami Herald obtained thousands of pages of health department documents under the state’s public records law, including nearly 800 emails and hundreds of memos and reports that detailed the state’s plan to ‘restructure’ CMS. They show that the elimination of children from CMS was the result of a plan to slash spending on sick kids at a time when Florida had a $635.4 million surplus. For the legislative session that begins next month, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed $1 billion in new tax cuts. The spending plan would eliminate an additional 718 health department positions.”
The manner in which the state has reduced the children’s eligibility has caused a big stir among both parents and academics. There is a five-question assessment tool, and one of those questions is intended as a “trap.” The question: “Is your child limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do? Give the wrong answer — no — and your child is eliminated.”
Parents have taken the question to mean ‘is your child suffering from eminent life-threatening disease, such as cancer’. No parent, if they can help it, wants to openly admit their child is different. In fact, some parents of children with epilepsy, migraines, asthma, and kidney malfunction have answered ‘no’ only to find their child eliminated from the CMS program.
The academics who developed the assessment tool for the state never intended question No. 3 be used as a deceitful screening tool – the question “was designed principally for use in surveys, not for eligibility determination… to estimate the number of children with special health care needs in a population. The creators did not have eligibility determination in mind when it was created.”
The bottom line is the state decided to drop 9,000 kids, according to records the Herald obtained, dated April 17. They said: “With the new screening tool, CMS has projected that 38 percent of enrolled children will no longer meet clinical eligibility requirements.”
As one facial surgeon said: “If doctors don’t continue to treat such children without charging, these kids will have to live their lives unable to chew properly, unable to speak properly and they will have deformed faces that will stigmatize them and prevent them from living a totally ‘normal’ life.”
This is another instance of another Republican governor, Rick Scott, who has decided that an additional $1 billion in tax cuts for his one-percenter friends is more important than protecting the quality of lives for his state’s most vulnerable citizens – its poor and medically needy children.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.