This blog is part of our Working Better Together series and was adapted from an interview with Miriam Harmatz, Founder and Director of Advocacy at the Florida Health Justice Project. This blog series is intended to provide our Health Law Partners with a platform to highlight successes, challenges, and innovative approaches to furthering health access and health equity in the states where they work. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Andy: Hello, My Name is Andy DiAntonio and I am the Director of Communications at the National Health Law Program. Today I am interviewing Miriam Harmatz, Founder and Director of Advocacy at the Florida Health Justice Project as part of NHeLP’s Working Better Together blog series. Miriam, so wonderful to speak with you today! Can you discuss how the health law partnership has contributed to health justice in Florida?
Miriam: Our Health Law Partnership with the National Health Law Program has been nothing short transformational because being able to enforce the health care rights of vulnerable Floridians is an absolutely essential advocacy tool. The HLP has made it possible for our legal director, in partnership with NHeLP, to bring cases that will help secure those health care rights— from ensuring due process to obtaining needed medical care.
Andy: How does the HLP intersect with FHJP’s work to share the lived experiences of Florida Medicaid recipients?
Miriam: [They are] inextricably linked! We cannot do health justice advocacy without clients willing to partner and share their stories—whether as named plaintiffs in a class action — or as part of Medicaid | Lived Experience, which is a joint project with NHeLP and part of our Florida Health Justice STORIES. Through this project, we have elevated the experiences of pregnant women, children, seniors, and persons with disabilities who face major barriers to accessing health care in Florida.
One good example of the impact of our partnership with NHeLP is illustrated by Japheth’s experience. Japheth, as a former foster youth, was entitled to Medicaid coverage until age 26. But Florida’s application process resulted in almost all former foster care youth losing their Medicaid when they aged out of care. Japheth, like other former foster youth, found himself with thousands of dollars in medical debt and without proper care for serious medical conditions. Working through our Health Law Partnership with NHeLP, we wrote the State a detailed demand letter, which carefully explained the law and the facts around Japheth’s experience. The State fixed the problem system wide without the need for litigation, which is always our last resort as an advocacy tool.
Andy: Thank you, Miriam for sharing Japheth’s story. As we approach 2023, what are your plans for the Health Law Partnership in the next year?
Miriam: Like Medicaid advocates all over the country, we are preparing for the end of the coverage requirement under the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE). The risk of coverage loss, which is huge, will be much worse in states like Florida that have not expanded Medicaid. As part of our Health Law Partnership, we plan to assist clients who lose Medicaid, identify and address systemic issues that might occur, and continue creating and updating resources and training tools. An example is our PHE website that, among other things, helps advocates and the press understand who is most likely to lose Medicaid in Florida and why.
A companion page on our Lived Experiences site shares the stories of people who have had Medicaid during the pandemic, but who are at risk of losing coverage when the PHE ends. Many of these people, like Iris, will fall in the Medicaid Coverage Gap.
Another example is this training video, which unpacks why so many parents and caregivers in Florida will also lose Medicaid and walks through how advocates can help families better understand notices terminating coverage. The training also helps advocates understand the importance of Medicaid expansion for families that fall in the coverage gap.
Finally, we are really looking forward to collaborating with Health Law Partnerships in other non-expansion states so we can effectively share the lived experiences of the hundreds of thousands of people who had Medicaid during the pandemic and who will, like Iris, lose coverage. There is going to be a tsunami of coverage loss in non-expansion states. This will be a huge story in the ongoing struggle for health equity in our twelve states that still refuse to expand Medicaid.
So we want to follow Winston Churchill’s advice and “not let a good crisis go to waste.”
Working Better Together Blog Series
The Working Better Together blog series gives our Health Law Partners a platform to highlight successes, challenges, and innovative approaches to furthering health access and health equity in the states where they work. Find other blogs in the series here.