The old Florida capitol (Pic by Diligent Terrier, via Wikimedia Commons)

As the state aims to balance the budget in the face of a $2 billion shortfall, Medicaid recipients might see their doctor’s visits slashed. Florida’s $70 billion budget, which was released yesterday and is set to be voted on Friday, drastically cuts visits to emergency rooms and primary care doctors for Floridians enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program.

As of August 1, 2012, the budget (.pdf), would  limit “emergency room visits to 6 visits per fiscal year for  a non-pregnant recipient 21 years of age or older [and] general physician visits to two visits per month for non-pregnant adults.”

Karen Woodall, the interim executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, says that the move “doesn’t make sense” because it could lead to increased costs in emergency room visits for Medicaid recipients with more serious illnesses.

“We will be losing more money with these cuts,” she says, “because [recipients] can still go to emergency rooms.”

Woodall also says that the state’s continued cuts to the Medicaid program is akin to “discrimination against poor people,” and would likely not be approved by the federal government.

In an effort to cut the costs of Medicaid to the state, Florida lawmakers have attempted to privatize portions of the program, cut services and charge $10 premiums for every enrollee.

Last month, the federal government struck down the state’s attempt to charge all Medicaid beneficiaries $10 a month for services, as well as a request to charge a $100 copayment for receiving non-emergency medical care in a hospital.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the state could not impose premiums on families whose income is “at or below 150 percent” of the federal poverty level, something the feds say they “verbally” warned the state about. The Centers had the same concern about the $100 copayment. Federal health officials ruled that “cost sharing for individuals at lower income levels cannot exceed five percent of family income.”

Reports showed that the state’s plan to charge $10 premium would have likely forced out about 800,000 people from Florida’s Medicaid program — 660,000 of which would have likely been children.

Gov. Rick Scott has been among the many lawmakers to pin the state’s budgetary problems almost squarely on the state’s contribution to Medicaid. He has said many times that if Florida does not adjust Medicaid spending, “it will bankrupt the state.” Health advocates, public interest groups and policy experts, however, have said such arguments are misleading.

Greg Mellowe, of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, told The Florida Independent last year that “any implication that Medicaid spending is spiraling out of control is disingenuous.” According to Mellowe, the projected increase in the state’s Medicaid spending amounts to a “2.6 percent bump for this year,” which he said “is the second smallest percentage increase in the past dozen years.”

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