5 Things Florida: New legislation, Budget proposal, Race and health equity

This monthly newsletter, and indeed all of our reporting on Florida health care, is funded by the success of our annual conference. This year’s virtual event, the 2021 Florida State of Reform Health Policy Conference, is coming up on May 20th. In the next few weeks, our Convening Panel will get together to sort through which topics to tee up. We’ll curate more than 60 speakers for you from across Florida health care.

So, if you have ideas for topics for our agenda, those that exist at the nexus of health care and health policy, I’d be interested in hearing about them. You can hit reply to this email, and it will hit my inbox.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Staffing shortages a top concern for FHA

Mary Mayhew has been CEO of the Florida Hospital Association for only a few months, but she has a wealth of experience working in the health care sector having previously served as Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. In this Q&A with State of Reform, Mayhew discusses the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Florida and the challenges hospitals are facing amidst the pandemic.

Mayhew says she is very concerned about the staffing challenges facing her members. “I have spoken to many hospitals that have seen an exodus of some of their nurses because of the strain and stress of this pandemic, not just professionally but the impact it can have personally in family members not wanting to be around them for fear of increased exposure to COVID-19.” She says FHA is looking at opportunities for data gathering to understand the implications of the pandemic on the health care workforce.


2. Bills filed to support veterans’ health & limit liability

Lawmakers had a busy January, filing a slate of new health-related bills – including several aimed at supporting veterans. House Bill 231, filed by Rep. Ardian Zika, looks to establish the Florida Veterans’ Care Coordination Program to provide behavioral health services to veterans and their families. House Bill 2003 would dedicate $875,000 from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the St. Lucie County Homeless Veterans Assistance Center.

Lawmakers have also filed bills (HB 7/SB 72) which would provide religious institutions, businesses, schools, and nonprofits with a liability shield from COVID-19-related lawsuits if they meet minimum recommended safety requirements. HB 7 is the only item on the agenda for this Wednesday’s Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee meeting.


3. Budget increase driven by health spending

Governor DeSantis released his $96.6 billion “Florida Leads” budget proposal for FY 2021-22 on Thursday, featuring a $4.3 billion increase over the current fiscal year. Of that increase, $2.6 billion accounts for additional expenditures related to the state’s COVID response efforts.

Other health investments include $178 million in state and federal funding to fight the state’s opioid epidemic, $53.9 million to provide community-based behavioral health services for adults with severe mental illnesses and children with emotional disturbances, and $9 million to support the state’s minority health and health equity infrastructure. The budget also looks to add an additional $3 billion in Medicaid spending.


4. Racial disparities in vaccines, outcomes

As of last week, white Floridians were 2.5 times more likely to have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose compared to Black residents. As of mid-January, Florida is one of just 17 states reporting its vaccine distribution data by race/ethnicity, and early information points to racial disparities in the state along with the rest of the country.

Senate Bill 404, filed by Sen. Darryl Rouson, and House Bill 183, by Rep. Kamia Brown, would require every county to have a dedicated minority health liaison to ensure counties are implementing statewide policies relating to health equity. The bill would also require the Florida Office of Minority Health and Health Equity to coordinate with liaisons and county level health departments to gather data and publish reports on health equity at the state and county levels while also identifying areas in need of improvement.


5. What the data says about us

Recent US economic data shows 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since 1946. In Florida, 47.9% of 12.7m Floridians responding to a recent survey said they felt “down, depressed or hopeless” at least “several days” in the last week. 8.4% of Floridians received “counseling or therapy from a mental health professional” in the last seven days. However, another 10.6% said they “Needed counseling or therapy from a mental health professional, but did not get it for any reason.”

Of those Floridians responding, 15.2% said they were in households with children where “sometimes” or “often” there was not enough food to eat. 35% of Florida small businesses couldn’t make rent in January. Of those yet to receive the first dose of the vaccine, 25% say they may not get it at all, with 12.4% of those saying they will “definitely not get a vaccine” and 15.3% saying simply they “Don’t believe I need a vaccine.”