POLICY: Florida solves Medicaid cost problem (well, not really)

As you’d expect from the most efficient, transparent, clean-government minded state in the nation, Florida has figured out how to solve its Medicaid cost problem. It’s planning on privatizing Medicaid and making recipients buy in with a voucher into managed care plans. I said plenty about Medicaid in a post last week, so I won’t repeat it all. But three things struck me. First, according to the leader of Florida’s Democrats, the Medicaid budget is about to overtake the education budget. I know they have lots of old and poor people down there, but can that really be true? (I’d like to understand this explanatory page but unless I’m pretty dumb it contradicts itself in the notes below the table). In California where we rival Mississippi in propping up the table on per capita education spending, health spending is only a third of education spending. So is Florida really spending no money on educating its kids? The California state budget division is below, and it shows that we spend a lot less on health than on education.

(From California Budget Basics, by Stephen Levy).

Secondly, 70% of Medicaid dollars in most states go on the care of the poor, elderly and disabled, mostly on nursing home care. No managed care organization has a clue how to deal with those folks, so really we are talking about saving money (potentially) by going after only the other 30% of the dollars. Not really much likelihood of big savings there.

Finally, states are the FILOs of budget deficits (first in, last out). But if you believe the Bush rhetoric about how the economy is getting better (and assuming you are a governor named Bush you should do), shouldn’t this picture be getting better? And if it is, why does it need radical surgery now?

If you want to dive a little deeper into Medicaid, you might take a look at this McKinsey report on what’s wrong with Medicaid which gives some ideas for fixing it. While it’s not dumb as far as it goes, the report doesn’t unfortunately mention the actual ways Medicaid really needs to get fixed which are:a) rolling it into a universal health insurance system,b) creating a national long term care policy, andc) doing something about the scandalous state of the poor in America.

Jonathan Cohn summed it up well in an email in which he said that:

What I love is the constant dismay at the way Medicaid keeps eating up larger shares of state budgets, as if it didn’t have something to do with the fact that more and more people are becoming eligible as employer-sponsored insurance withers away.

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