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Growing Medicaid Rolls Could Expand Budget Shortfall

The number of Floridians relying on the state’s safety net for the poor keeps growing, a situation that could balloon the size of next year’s potential budget shortfall even higher.

New numbers drawn up this week by state economists now project that the number of people enrolled in Medicaid is going to exceed previous estimates. Economists have concluded that the state’s rising unemployment rate, now at 11 percent, will continue to result in more people seeking government help.

Nearly 400,000 more Floridians are expected to enroll this year in Medicaid, the state and federally funded health care program for the poor and disabled. That’s a nearly 16 percent increase over the state fiscal year that ended on June 30.

It’s not expected to get any better in the state budget year that runs from July 2010 to June 2011. The rapid growth in Medicaid is expected to continue to climb, resulting in more than 2.95 million Floridians enrolled in the program by the middle of 2011.

The escalation in Medicaid enrollment may add to the budget shortfall that lawmakers will have to confront during the 2010 session. Medicaid was already projected to finish the current budget year in the red but it was anticipated that the state has enough in reserves to cover it.

But a potential loss of $1.8 billion in additional federal matching money for Medicaid that was included in the stimulus package will also dramatically impact the state’s budget. State Senate leaders traveled to Washington D.C. earlier this week to discuss several issues including the federal matching rate for Medicaid.

While Medicaid enrollment is also rising, the number of Floridians seeking welfare assistance, or what is officially known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – TANF - is not growing quite as rapidly as forecast earlier this year. But economists expect the number of those seeking welfare to rise next year.

The latest numbers show that more than 113,000 Floridians will receive welfare help by next summer with an additional 11,000 expected to seek help by June 2011.

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