Success of Medicaid reform questioned

12/08/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Last week Jeb Bush shook up the political world with news he is thinking about running for the U.S. Senate seat Republican Mel Martinez will vacant in 2010.

If Bush runs, his record may get a closer vetting than when he left office two years ago with high approval ratings.

One policy that might be examined is Medicaid reform. In 2005, Bush signed legislation aimed at reforming Medicaid, the health insurance program for more than two million low-income families and individuals. Originally offered in Broward and Duval counties, the reform program has since been expanded to five counties. And there have been problems implementing the program.

Holly Benson, the head of the Florida Agency for Health Care , or AHCA, has defended those problems as "growing pains."

But Bush recently wrote in an opinion piece in the Tampa Tribune saying the program is going great and should be expanded by current Gov. Charlie Crist and the state legislature.

Laura Goodhue thinks Bush is mistaken.

Goodhue is the Executive Director of Florida CHAIN, an organization promoting access to health care in Florida. She wrote a letter to the Tribune today rebutting Bush’s claims that reforming Medicaid is saving money.

In his opinion piece published Nov. 28, Bush wrote that "29 months in, Medicaid reform can claim significant successes."

But Goodhue said there’s not enough data to make such an evaluation. The recipients of Medicaid are children of low-income earners, the elderly and the disabled. Goodhue said the plans are confusing for those trying to access the system.

As every state agency is forced to make budget cuts to deal with the growing deficit, Goodhue said that ACHA is making cuts, but is actually asking for more money to expand Medicaid reform.

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Brandenton, disputes that statement. He recently told the Tribune the AHCA request is "an exercise on paper only." He wrote that, "it does not mean the agency is pushing for expansion." In fact, he wrote, “the agency requested the same thing last year and the purpose of this is to serve as a place holder should the Legislature decide to expand reform.”

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