Florida legislators will convene next week to review and approve Florida’s 2022-2023 budget. Governor Ron DeSantis released his budget recommendations last month, totaling over $99.7 billion. Health care-wise, the “Freedom First Budget” provides support for substance use disorder services and direct care providers, but leaves COVID-19 mitigation funding virtually off the table.
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DeSantis said in a statement that “Florida is placing freedom above heavy-handed vaccination mandates and Faucism” and the budget would “support health care freedom and protect Floridians as they make their own health care choices.”
Several state agencies, including the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and the Department of Health (DOH) submitted their budget requests earlier this year. The governor’s recommendations for both agencies were higher than their original requests. AHCA originally requested $36.5 billion in general and federal funds, while the governor’s budget would add another $262 million in total funds. DOH requested $3.2 billion in general and federal funds, and the governor would allocate an additional $14.6 million in total funds.
The budget includes over $200 million in total funds for direct care worker pay raises. Of these funds, $4.5 million in trust funds would specifically go to hospitals with a higher percentage (at least 14%) of Medicaid patients.
AHCA would receive $65 million in general funds to provide rate increases for nursing homes, Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ICF/DD), and other assisted living providers.
To combat the increase in opioid overdoses since the start of the pandemic, DOH would receive $5 million in general funds to provide emergency opioid antagonists, such as naloxone and naltrexone, for first responders. Additionally, $1.5 million in general funds would go to the Department of Children and Families to partner with a nonprofit in distributing naltrexone.
The governor’s budget largely directed its COVID response funding to first responder support and economic recovery efforts. For example, $220 million would go to the Department of Economic Opportunity to distribute one-time payments of $1,000 to emergency medical technicians and other frontline workers. Additionally, $8.1 million in trust funds would support “media campaigns regarding the availability and use of COVID-19 therapies and to promote a healthy lifestyle for Floridians of all ages.” This references a new monoclonal antibody therapy from AstraZeneca and the DOH’s Healthier You initiative, which DeSantis highlighted along with his budget priorities.
The lack of more funding for testing and vaccination efforts concerned some legislators on the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee as they reviewed the agencies’ budget requests at their most recent meeting. This also coincides with a report that found Florida to have some of the highest costs in the country for complex COVID-19 treatments and hospitalizations.
At the House subcommittee meeting, Michelle Tallent, a DOH representative, attributed the lack of COVID-related budget requests to the availability of federal funds.