The cost of medical care for the poor is the fastest growing chunk of Florida's budget, and the governor says taxpayers can’t afford to keep footing the bill. But the governor and state lawmakers may have missed two chances to put money into prevention programs that could have saved billions down the road.
Jeb Bush warned of impending doom when he signed the state budget last month. He’s worried about the Medicaid portion of the state budget, which will cost taxpayers more than $14 billion in the coming year. That’s up 16 percent over last year.
“We can’t sustain it. You compound that number out and it will gobble up every taxpayer dollar, it will consume the entire budget,” Gov. Bush says.
But some of the bigger cost drivers for Medicaid spending are also preventable. The state spends 900 million Medicaid dollars a year to treat diseases related to obesity and another $400 million a year on smoking-related illnesses, yet lawmakers balked at a proposal to reinstate gym class in school to fight obesity and failed to fund the nation’s most successful anti-teen smoking program for the second year in a row.
Brenda Olsen with the American Lung Association says it’s bad money management.
“It’s really a shame that the Legislature doesn’t invest in the future and try to bring down those costs by investing in prevention efforts that we know work,” says Olsen.
Critics blame a lack of leadership at the top. Sen. Dave Aronberg says everyone dropped the ball.
“I don’t want to put all the blame on the governor’s shoulders because it’s a joint effort, I mean, everyone deserves blame on this. The Legislature didn’t pass any significant anti-obesity bills. The Legislature didn’t pass even the governor’s recommendation on the anti-tobacco programs,” says Sen. Aronberg.
Jeb Bush has been trying to reform Florida’s Medicaid program, but without money on the front end to help prevent disease in the first place, advocates say healthcare costs will continue to spiral out of control.
More than two million Floridians rely on the state’s Medicaid program for their health care needs.