Confronting COVID-19 and Improving Health Care in Florida

October 6, 2020

On Wednesday, August 19, Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL) sat down for a virtual roundtable hosted by Florida Blue, a  health insurer in Florida, to discuss how Floridians have been impacted by the crisis, innovations in health care that health care providers like Florida Blue have supported to respond to the virus, and the path forward for the Sunshine State. Representative Shalala was joined by representatives of Florida Blue, the Miami-Dade Beacon Council and the United Way of Miami-Dade.

At the start of the discussion, all participants agreed that enhancing what’s working and expanding access to quality coverage and care in Florida is critical to the state’s overall health during the crisis and beyond.

Representative Shalala noted in her opening remarks that South Florida’s challenges regarding the COVID-19 crisis are unique because of its heavy reliance on tourism. “I represent the beaches, the hotels, the restaurants on the beaches, as well as the port,” she said. “We have a special kind of challenge here, and I’ve been explaining that in Washington. We also have a lot of small businesses that are dependent on the hotels, the cruise lines and the restaurants.”

Michael A. Finney, President and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council echoed those sentiments, focusing on small businesses. “What we saw was that the immediate impact of the crisis was that small businesses were completely devastated,” he said, touching on the ways his organization is networking with small businesses, working with about 150 small companies that need their support.

Maria Alonso, President and CEO of the United Way of Miami-Dade talked through the disparate impact COVID-19 has had on Miami-Dade’s most vulnerable populations. She noted that before the pandemic, 54% of households in Miami-Dade were one unplanned event away from financial instability. “They were the first to be impacted by COVID,” she said, “So it disproportionately impacted working families by the reduced hours or the furloughs or being laid off.” She discussed the assistance her organization has been able to provide these families through state and federal funding.

Kelly James, Director for the Center for Health Policy at Florida Blue, spoke to how his organization is working to expand access to COVID-19 testing and treatment via telehealth services. He noted that Florida Blue had extended zero-dollar cost sharing benefits for doctor visits through their telemedicine partner, Teladoc, through the end of 2020. In describing Florida Blue’s motivation, Kelly said “So all of our individual commercial members, our group health plan commercial members, and our Medicare Advantage members continue to have zero-dollar cost-sharing for access to virtual visits through Teladoc through the end of 2020.”

Overall, the participants agreed that collaboration between providers, insurers, and lawmakers was essential to continue to expand access to quality care to those who need it most, especially in times of crisis. Representative Shalala thanked the participants for their perspectives on how individuals and small businesses in South Florida are continuing to be affected by COVID-19 and the ways their organizations have utilized state and federal support to assist these groups. As she prepared to return to Washington in the coming days, Representative Shalala pledged to continue to work with her colleagues to find solutions that best serve those she represents in Miami-Dade, and for the rest of the country.

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