Human cost of Florida's Medicaid reform battle

Noah Nero is a 7-year-old boy from Hudson who has battled serious health problems for all of his life. He was born with a bad heart, had open-heart surgery as a 3-week-old infant, then again at six months, then again as a toddler. He went through a heart transplant at the age of 5. He also suffered seven fractured bones.

He struggles with osteoporosis, autism, cerebral palsy, and lung disease. And his family can't afford private health insurance.

"I have to stay at home to take care of him.  It's not there," said Noah mother Cherish. "We depend on Medicaid."

Cherish is concerned because she says she has noticed a reduction in his therapy following Medicaid reforms.

"The first seven years, we never had issues. Now I'm constantly fighting to get what he needs," she added. "It's just been within the last year. Things are more difficult."

And it may soon get much harder, because the federal hospital fund (LIP) that helps cover Noah's medical costs is being phased out by the federal government.

Cherish fears those reforms will come at her son's expense. "The cutbacks terrify me. Everything he needs, he needs to live."

The rising costs of Medicaid drove state reforms under Governor Rick Scott that started with former Governor Jeb Bush.  If you count federal contributions, Medicaid accounts for around 30 percent of the state budget. And after national reforms (and years of assessments), the federal government decided to phase out the LIP hospital fund.

The state agreed to shift some state money into that fund this year, but lawmakers and hospitals are still facing a looming challenge.