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New jobless claims down in Florida, but sustained trend renews Medicaid funding concerns

Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew

(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) reported Thursday that 105,410 Floridians filed initial unemployment claims last week, a decline of 27,421 from the previous week.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) dashboard, continuing claims – those of two weeks or more – fell by 24 percent over the past week, from 914,801 to 691,886.

DEO reported Floridians have filed 3.24 million total claims since March, with 2.58 million identified as unique, meaning they are not duplicates or serial filings from the same person who has lost a job, returned to work, only to be unemployed again.

DEO said it has processed nearly 2.74 million claims, with 1.77 million claims – or 96.6 percent – being paid $11 billion in unemployment compensation since March 1.

Florida’s figures are an exception to national trends reported Thursday by USDOL, which documented the first increase in initial claims in 16 weeks, with 1.4 million people filing first-time unemployment benefits last week.

USDOL’s weekly first-time claims peaked at 6.9 million the last week of March and fell continuously until last week, upending economists’ projections that unemployment would remain steady with 1.3 million new claims, the same amount as last week.

Nearly half of Florida households surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau experienced loss in employment income last week, although the percentage of those who expect continued unemployment income losses fell from 41.2 percent to 35.2 percent last week.

The unemployment scenario is manifesting concerns in related issues, according to the Census, which reported the percentage of Florida households experiencing “food insecurity” climbed to 11.6 percent last week, the highest since late June.

With the steady flow of newly unemployed people applying for benefits, among other related concerns is growing enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program as people lose employer-provided health insurance.

According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Florida’s Medicaid enrollment increased by 224,375 people – or nearly 2 percent – in June.

The agency reported more than 4.1 million state residents were enrolled in June, up from 3.8 million in February. That figure now tops 4.2 million.

AHCA, which manages the state’s $30 billion Medicaid budget and 17 managed care plans, had warned in April the state may need to allocate an additional $1 billion to accommodate an enrollment of 3.78 million, a number eclipsed more than a month ago.

As a result, AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew said the state could be confronted with a “significant gap” in Medicaid funding in the months to come.

Increased enrollment is not the only factor driving up costs, however, she told the Sun-Sentinel on Wednesday, noting Medicaid providers are seeking additional support from the state to offset costs for personal protective equipment and other materials to safeguard against spreading the virus.

“When providers are having to pay additional costs associated with overtime, with having to recruit additional staff, the costs of PPE, well, that won’t automatically lead to an increase in the Medicaid budget,” she said. “We are certainly going to have providers coming to the Legislature seeking additional funding because of those costs.”

The AHCA is “looking at other costs to the program that may not necessarily be reflected in the budget yet,” she added.

State economists, including analysts from the governor’s office and the Legislature, will review Florida’s Medicaid caseloads and costs next week for the last half of the fiscal year that ended June 30 and project new caseloads and costs for the fiscal year that began July 1.

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