More than a dozen civil rights groups filed a complaint against the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration alleging that the state is using administrative practices that are “impairing the continued receipt of Medicaid by eligible beneficiaries who are Latinos, immigrants or Black.”
By doing this, the state violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans those who receive federal funds from discrimination based on race or national origin, the organizations alleged.
The complaint comes as the U.S. unwinds the continuous enrollment provision, which prevented states from disenrolling Medicaid members in exchange for enhanced federal funding during the Covid-19 public health emergency. The provision ended March 31, and states are returning to the Medicaid redetermination process, in which they verify if enrollees are still eligible for coverage.
The complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by several organizations: the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Florida Health Justice Project, Florida Policy Institute, Hispanic Federation, Hispanic Services Council, Housing Education Alliance, Latino Leadership, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Immigration Law Center, Protect Our Care, State Innovation Exchange Action, Equal Ground, MomsRising/MamásConPoder and UnidosUS.
They outlined three state administrative practices that they contend prevent underserved communities from renewing their Medicaid coverage:
- Florida Medicaid beneficiaries are “encouraged” to provide renewal information through the state’s Medicaid website, but that site cannot be accessed by smartphones. This is important given only 67% of Hispanic people have a desktop or laptop computer, versus 80% of non-Hispanic Whites, according to Pew Research Center. About 25% of Latinos have internet access solely through their smartphone, whereas 12% of non-Hispanic Whites do. There are similar disparities for African Americans.
- A recent UnidosUS study found that there are significant differences in wait times for Florida’s Medicaid call center based on language. English-language callers wait 36 minutes on average to get a representative on the line, whereas Spanish-language callers wait 2 hours and 22 minutes on average. More than half of Latino adults in Florida’s Medicaid program have limited English proficiency, as do 57% of Latino parents with incomes that allow their kids to qualify, according to American Community Survey data. Because of this, “many Latino Medicaid beneficiaries simply cannot renew by phone,” the organizations said.
- Florida makes it difficult for Latino and immigrant organizations to participate in its approved community partners program, which helps families keep their Medicaid coverage through tasks like looking up records and uploading forms, the complaint claimed. To get certified for the program, organizations’ staff need to complete some English-only courses. However, since many community health workers and navigators who support Latino and immigrant communities have limited English proficiency, it is difficult for them to receive certification.
“Florida could easily solve these problems,” the civil rights organizations declared. “The state has a $20 billion budget surplus, nearly $3 billion of which lawmakers recently used for tax cuts. A small fraction of the remainder would suffice to retain a contractor who can make the Medicaid website accessible to smartphones; to hire enough call center staff that parents can easily get help, regardless of the language they speak; and to replicate key training videos in languages other than English. These problems’ persistence speaks to the state’s priorities.”
Bailey Smith, communications director for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, called the complaint “baseless.”
Smith added that the state can’t comment on pending litigation, but said, “Our letters to recipients are legally sufficient. In fact, CMS approved the Department’s redetermination plan based on their regulations. There are multiple steps in the eligibility determination process and the final letter is just one of multiple communications from the Department.”
The complaint follows a recent lawsuit filed against the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Children and Families, which alleged that “tens of thousands of Floridians” are being removed from Medicaid coverage without receiving “adequate individualized written notice.”
More than 6.4 million people have been disenrolled from Medicaid during the redetermination process so far, including nearly 431,000 Floridians, according to KFF.
Photo: Valerii Evlakhov, Getty Images