Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis AFP / Christian Monterrosa

Florida's Medicaid spending on emergency health care for undocumented migrants has significantly decreased following a series of measures introduced by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in 2023. This decline in spending aligns with his crackdown on illegal immigration during his primary bid for president.

According to a study by POLITICO, which took into account data from The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Florida's Emergency Medical Assistance program for undocumented immigrants has seen a 54% drop in Medicaid spending this year.

In fact, with less than two months remaining in the fiscal year, expenditures have decreased from $148.4 million in 2023 to $67 million so far. This trend marks a significant acceleration in the rate of decline, which was just over 13% in the 12 months before the law took effect.

The specific law in question mandates that hospitals that accept Medicaid must inquire about patients' immigration status. Although patients are not compelled to respond, immigrant rights groups expressed concerns that this requirement might deter migrants from seeking necessary medical attention.

Back in October, advocacy groups such as "We Are Florida Coalition" promoted a "Decline to Answer" campaign, complete with printable cards and a toolkit, which communicated three key messages to the undocumented:

  1. That they have a right to receive emergency care, regardless of immigration status
  2. Interpretation services in their language should be available to them
  3. They can and "should decline" to answer questions about their immigration status without consequences.

The DeSantis administration has allocated substantial state budget funds to combat illegal immigration, including a $557,882 line item for AHCA to expand a program monitoring health care costs associated with undocumented immigrants. AHCA's budget surveillance program reported that hospitals had to cover over $566 million in unpaid medical bills for undocumented patients in the last six months of 2023.

Hospitals in Florida can request emergency Medicaid funding for migrants from the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The DCF data showed a decrease in emergency authorizations from 147,000 in fiscal 2022 to 116,000 in fiscal 2023, with 99,000 authorizations as of April 30, 2024.

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