Mar. 17--TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis received a significant boost from federal healthcare regulators this week when the Trump administration approved a waiver that will allow the state to sign up and pay doctors and hospitals through Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income people.
Under the approval, the state's Medicaid program, which currently has about 4 million Floridians enrolled, can waive application fees, certain criminal background checks and other requirements for doctors who sign up, according to the approval letter.
Florida's Medicaid program also will be allowed to waive certain rules, such as prior authorization requirements for care, certain hospital admission requirements and rules for residents who are transferred between nursing homes.
The waiver also allows hospitals, nursing homes and clinics that are forced to evacuate to an unlicensed facility to receive payment for the care they give at the unlicensed facility.
Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Agency for Healthcare Administration, which administers the state's Medicaid program, said in a statement that "it is imperative that Florida is able to act swiftly to support our health care staff in the face of this unprecedented crisis."
"I am grateful to President Trump, Secretary Azar, Administrator Verma and Gov. DeSantis for ensuring health care providers can prioritize response to COVID-19 through greater Medicaid flexibilities," she said.
Sara Rosenbaum, a Medicaid expert and professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, said the so-called 1135 waiver will allow Florida to work with more doctors and hospitals in response to the crisis.
"Basically, the key to 1135," Rosenbaum said, "is bringing more providers on, getting providers paid faster, changing payment methods -- doing the things that have to be done to make sure providers are getting the payment they need to do this job."
Anne Swerlick, a health policy attorney and analyst for the Florida Policy Institute, said the waiver is a "very good step in the right direction," though it doesn't go far enough to help under-served Floridians.
There is more flexibility that the state can be asking for, Swerlick said, like suspending the termination of Medicaid eligibility for people who don't have computer access to recertify or extend Medicaid eligibility temporarily to people who are uninsured.
There are nearly 400,000 uninsured Floridians living below the poverty line who don't qualify for Medicaid.
"Florida has not expanded its Medicaid program," she said. "These particular waivers don't do anything to ensure that this group of Floridians will have access to testing and treatment that they need. These are two major areas where we can go further in trying to really address this unprecedented crisis."
Samantha J. Gross reported from Tallahassee, and Daniel Chang reported from Miami.
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