Aug 22, 2023 - News

Spanish speakers are waiting longer for Florida's Medicaid call centers

Illustration of an old phone with a clock face on the ear piece

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Spanish-speaking Floridians are encountering hours of delays when reapplying for Medicaid coverage via the state's call centers, according to UnidosUS, the largest Hispanic civil rights advocacy group in the U.S.

Why it matters: Half of the 400,000 people in Florida who lost their Medicaid coverage are still eligible but were removed because of "procedural reasons." Extended wait times could impede Spanish speakers, who are more dependent on call centers, from re-enrolling.

State of play: Spanish speakers in Florida had to wait over two hours to reach the call center —  four times longer for help than those who speak English, the organization found.

  • The information is based on 40 calls UnidosUS made in July and August. Callers selected their language via an automated prompt.

Between the lines: UnidosUS found that Florida's Medicaid call center had an average wait time of 36 minutes for English-speaking callers.

  • The longest wait for an English-speaking caller was 50 minutes — 10% of those calls were disconnected.
  • Meanwhile, about a third of Spanish speakers were disconnected.

The other side: Tori Cuddy, spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families, which determines Medicaid eligibility, did not answer specific questions about the call center's wait times.

  • Instead, Cuddy told Axios almost 92% of "Medicaid applications and redeterminations are filed through the state's online portal," which is available in English, Spanish and Creole.
  • "Our data shows that Florida's approach to redeterminations is solid, and the media is grasping at woke straws," she said. "Left-leaning advocacy groups are cherry-picking data to fit their false narrative."

What they're saying: "The state's number tells you how many people who made it through the renewal obstacle course used the online pathway," Stan Dorn, health policy director at UnidosUS, told Axios.

  • "It tells you nothing about people locked out of website renewal because they lack broadband access or don't remember their password and are directed to the state's call center for assistance they may never receive."

The bottom line: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights said Medicaid call centers are particularly important to people of color, who are "less likely to have broadband and internet access."

  • Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said, "Call centers are a critical resource for ensuring equitable access to support for completing renewals and applying for Medicaid."
  • CMS also expressed concern about Florida's reported call center wait times and abandonment rates, adding it could impede "equitable access to assistance and the ability for people to apply for or renew Medicaid."

Zoom out: Other states with sizable Latino populations, like California and New York, had much shorter call center wait times.

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