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Florida social services call center has 2nd longest wait times in the country; $12 million might help


Floridians calling the Department of Children and Families for help with Medicaid and other programs face the second longest wait times in the country, according to a February report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). On average, people have to wait 42 minutes to talk to an agent, and 44% of calls get abandoned.
From April to November, wait times at the DCF call center have fluctuated between half an hour and more than 40 minutes, and the call abandonment rates have been as high as 48%, according to monthly data the department submits to the federal government. Florida’s metrics are among the worst in the country.

(The data states submit to CMS is not uniform. For example, the data from Florida only includes calls transferred to a live agent. Other states may also include calls handled by automated systems.) The state with the longest average wait time is New Mexico with 43 minutes, followed by Florida, Nevada and Tennessee.

Hoping to alleviate the problem, lawmakers agreed to put $12,261,444 for the call center in the state budget for 2024-25. Lawmakers approved the $117.46 billion state budget last week, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to sign off on it and he can veto various budget items.

“I thought it was very important. We want to make sure that individuals who are having a problem getting onto Medicaid or have issues or questions have timely access to answers,” Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell told Florida Phoenix last week. She is the chair of the Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services.

Long wait times and high disconnect rates

UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights organization, has been lobbying Florida legislators to invest in the call center — in the 2024-25 state budget documents, it is described as the Economic Self Sufficiency Customer Call Center that fields inquiries for programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Cash Assistance. The UnidosUS Florida team has also conducted two reports illustrating longer wait times and higher abandonment rates than in the February report from CMS.

Graphic: States Newsroom.

“One thing that we had seen is that as we were talking with legislators, and with our first report, was that they didn’t see anybody coming to them with real, concrete information around what’s happening and why,” said Jared Nordlund, UnidosUS’ political director for the state, in an interview with the Phoenix. “Once we gave them our first report out there, they used that to really understand what was going on. So that’s when we began lobbying them that the call center is woefully underfunded.

“That’s causing these problems and it’s only going to compound, and they’ve gotta get other under control because, at the end of the day, we’re messing up people’s health care.”

UnidosUS Florida Director Jared Nordlund. Photo courtesy of UnidosUS.

Although the wait times improved since the last time UnidosUS tested the call center in August, the line for English speakers had an average wait of 66 minutes, and the wait averaged 47 minutes for the Spanish helpline, according to the report. The number of disconnected or abandoned calls, which was 80% for the English line and 82% for the Spanish line, surprised Nordlund the most.

To gather the data, UnidosUS staff members made 49 calls in English and 36 in Spanish to the DCF call center from Jan. 5-22, 2024. They called the information line at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. from Monday through Friday.

“We’re going through our calls, and I was seeing this massive number of disconnects. I was talking to my staff; I was like, ‘Guys, it’s really. Are you guys doing it right,'” Nordlund said. “We were double-checking our work because we couldn’t believe the disconnect rate being so high.”

Medicaid coverage loss

Indira Navas, a UnidosUS campaign strategist in Miami-Dade County, said she waited three hours on the phone to get answers from DCF about her son’s loss of Medicaid coverage. She found out her six-year-old son no longer had health insurance from the staff at the psychologist’s office where he had an appointment. However, DCF didn’t give her an explanation as to why her son but not her daughter had lost coverage, which both were approved to have until the fall, Navas said in a phone interview with the Phoenix.

“What is happening to me is happening to a lot of people. I am able to select the English helpline option. I have access to a computer. I am knowledgeable about the process, and I still haven’t been able to solve the problem,” Navas said. “Their explanation is that my income is too high, but then why does my eldest daughter still have Medicaid while my son doesn’t? It doesn’t make sense that they took my son off it because he has special needs.”

Navas’ son is one of 1.3 million Floridians who have lost insurance coverage since the state’s reevaluation of Medicaid eligibility after the end of continued coverage under the COVID-19 emergency, according to health policy research center KFF’s nationwide data tracker. Nearly 60% of the people who lost Medicaid in Florida were bumped from the program because of procedural reasons — including lack of necessary information to determine eligibility or because the state has outdated contact information — and not because they weren’t eligible.

The Georgetown University Center for Children and Families has been monitoring the Medicaid unwinding process nationally. Its executive director, Joan Alker, said the $12 million appropriation for the call center is a step in the right direction considering the state’s handling of the review process. 

“It would have been preferable to make sure the call centers had adequate resources before the process started. But having said that, there’s probably a whole lot of folks who have lost Medicaid inappropriately and may try to re-enroll in the program,” Alker said in a phone interview with the Phoenix. “One thing that I think is really important in this process, especially in a state like Florida, where we’ve seen high procedural terminations is that elected officials promote a message for families to let them know that, particularly, if their child has lost coverage, there’s a good chance the child is still eligible, and there are ways to help them to get their coverage back.”

UnidosUS plans to continue publishing reports about the wait times and lobbying for changes in the call center during the 2025 legislative session, Nordlund said.

DCF did not provide comment at the time of publishing.

Medicaid, Florida Legislature, Florida, Healthcare, Florida Phoenix


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