A Media Matters analysis found that Florida newspapers including, The Orlando Sentinel, The Sun-Sentinel, The Tampa Bay Times, and The Tampa Tribune, largely failed to cover the key details of Medicaid expansion in the lead up to the state's legislative session, including the specific benefits of expansion and the negative impact the failure to expand would have on the state and Floridians.
Florida Newspaper's Failure To Cover Medicaid Expansion
Florida's Top Four Newspapers Leave Out Vital Information On Medicaid Expansion. A Media Matters search of Florida's highest circulating newspapers, The Orlando Sentinel, The Sun-Sentinel, The Tampa Bay Times, and The Tampa Tribune from January 1 to February 18 found that, across all four papers, 34 articles mention Medicaid expansion but only 6 of these articles, or 17.6 percent of the total, have an explanation of Medicaid expansion's impact on Florida. Those impacts include the number of people eligible to receive insurance under expansion, how expansion would benefit the state budget, and how expansion would affect Florida's health systems:
No Single Article Mentioned All Of The Major Issues For Florida, Uninsured Floridians. According to the analysis, each paper covered at least one of the major issues involved with expansion in at least one article. None of the articles mentioned Medicaid's impact on the state's budget and only two articles from a single newspaper mentioned the impact on Florida's hospitals and overall health systems (click to expand):
Frequency Of Reports On Vital Medicaid Expansion Information
Experts: Much Of Legislative Session Work Happens Before Session Beings
Former Rep. Paula Dockery: Preparation Begins Months Before Session Starts. According to former state representative Paula Dockery (R-FL), Florida's short session requires lawmakers to work on the vast amount of legislation considered during each session several months before the session starts:
In a typical Florida legislative session, some 2,000 bills are usually floating somewhere in the process.
The 120 state House members and 40 state senators introduce 1,000 or so member bills. Add to that the appropriations bills, implementing bills, budget conforming bills, claims bills and committee bills, and pretty soon you've got 160 legislators chasing their tails to move thousands of bills during a 60-day session.
While the session officially starts in early March, legislators have been making the trek to Tallahassee since September in preparation. These committee weeks are held to allow legislators the opportunity to start moving their legislation through committees and to allow the public to comment on proposed changes to Florida law. [Florida Today, 1/16/14]
Committee Meetings Are Held Before Session Begins To Determine The Legislative Agenda. Local political blog, Saint Peters Blog, reported that Florida legislators planned to begin working on the 2014 session in September 2013. [Saint Peters Blog, 6/11/13]
Medicaid Expansion Would Create Jobs, Increase Economic Activity
Health Affairs: Florida's Medicaid Expansion Would Cover Over A Million Uninsured People. According to a January 1 Health Affairs article, 1,266,471 uninsured Floridians would gain coverage if the state chose to expand Medicaid. [Health Affairs, 1/30/14]
Families USA: Expanding Medicaid Will Create Over 70,000 New Jobs In Florida. According to a report by Families USA, expanding Medicaid in Florida will bring 71,300 new jobs to the state. [Families USA, February 2013]
Florida Chain: Expanding Medicaid Will "Promote A Healthier Workforce And Increased Production." According to a white paper composed by Flordia Chain, a state healthcare reform advocate, expanding Medicaid is good for business as it promotes stability in the work force making employees more productive and increasing the tax revenue for the state:
Medicaid Expansion will help our families, neighbors, and communities to be healthier. It is well established that being uninsured contributes to unnecessary and early deaths, exorbitant and often unaffordable health care expenses, and preventable sickness and suffering. Medicaid Expansion gives Florida Legislature's Social Services Estimating Conference, Florida the opportunity to reduce our state's number of uninsured by as much as 50% with virtually all of the costs paid for by the federal government. Extending Medicaid access to previously ineligible adults has been shown to reduce death rates and improve coverage, access to care, and self-reported health among this group. Working families with Medicaid coverage will be more likely to access the services necessary to stay healthy, and this will help promote a healthier workforce and increased production and tax revenue.
[Florida Chain, accessed 2/10/14, emphasis added, internal citations removed for clarity]
Families USA: Medicaid Expansion Will Increase Economic Activity In Florida By $8.9 Billion. A report by Families USA explained that Florida would see an increase of $8.9 billion in economic activity by 2016 through the influx of federal dollars and new job creation. [Families USA, February 2013]
Health Affairs: Expanding Medicaid Would Prevent Between 1,158 and 2,221 Deaths In Florida. According to analysis by Health Affairs, Medicaid expansion could prevent up to 2,221 deaths in Florida. [Health Affairs,1/30/14]
Without Expansion, Floridians Will Lose Money And Have Less Access To Care
Kaiser Family Foundation: Over 750,000 Floridians Would Fall Into The Coverage Gap Without Medicaid Expansion. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 763,890 citizens would fall into the "coverage gap" or the group of people who do not make enough to qualify for tax credits to aid in purchasing plans on the exchanges but make too much to qualify for the current Medicaid program. 16 percent of those who fall into the coverage gap nationally would reside in Florida. [Kaiser Family Foundation, 10/23/13]
Kaiser Family Foundation: Failing To Expand Medicaid Will Disproportionately Hurt Minorities In Florida. A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that the coverage gap created by state's refusal to expand Medicaid will negatively impact minorities in the state:
[Kaiser Family Foundation, 12/17/13]
CBPP: Expanding Medicaid Would Benefit Florida's Uninsured Veterans. As a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, under expansion Florida is "likely to see larger gains in coverage among veterans than other states":
According to the Urban Institute, more than 600,000 uninsured veterans today have incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line, but only 10 percent of these uninsured veterans are currently eligible. A significant portion of uninsured veterans would become newly eligible for Medicaid if all states expand. Notably, states that have publicly opposed the expansion, such as Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, are likely to see larger gains in coverage among veterans than other states. Just as these states have a higher rate of uninsurance in general, veterans who live in these states are more likely to be uninsured. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/11/12]
Commonwealth Fund: Forgoing Medicaid Expansion Would Forfeit Federal Funds Equal To Nearly 5 Percent Of The General Tax Revenue Collected From Florida. According to the Commonwealth Fund, Florida's rejection of Medicaid expansion funding of $5.038 billion is equal to 4.7 percent of the general tax revenue collected from the state. [Commonwealth Fund, December 2013]
Florida Chain: Safety Net Hospitals Will Lose $654 Million Over Ten Years If Medicaid Expansion Fails. According to a white paper composed by Florida Chain, a state healthcare reform advocate, the ACA includes cuts to the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding which supports hospitals that provide service to uninsured and low income patients. These cuts were intended to be replaced by Medicaid expansion funds before the Supreme Court's decision to allow states to opt out of expansion. Florida's DSH hospitals will lose $654 million over ten years if the DSH funding cuts are not offset by Medicaid expansion. [Florida Chain, accessed 2/10/14]
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of Florida's four highest-circulating English language newspapers: The Orlando Sentinel, The Sun-Sentinel, The Tampa Bay Times, and The Tampa Tribune. The search focused on the coverage of Medicaid expansion from January 1 to Feb 18. In conducting the search the term "Medicaid AND Expan!" was used to find any mention of Medicaid expansion in the four newspapers.
*This piece has been edited for clarity.