House panel ponders ObamaCare: “Orwellian,” or are critics “Chicken Littles?”by John Kennedy | February 28th, 2013
In its first hearing since Gov. Rick Scott announced his support for Medicaid expansion, a House committee heard state officials Thursday describe a range of complexities they face in enacting new requirements of the federal health care law.
The Office of Insurance Regulation described the “conundrum,” the agency faced in enforcing state regulations on insurance companies looking to comply with federal demands. A lawmaker, Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said the relationship was “Orwellian,” with federal officials playing the role of “big brother.”
But House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said Republicans and some business leaders who have long opposed the Affordable Care Act were still chiefly trying to cast changes in the worst possible light.
“We are like Chicken Little crying, ‘the sky is falling,’” Thurston said.
Scott last week heightened focus on the Legislature by announcing he supported the optional Medicaid expansion granted states under the law. Scott, however, acknowledged that the decision to expand will be made by the Legislature, which convenes its annual session next Tuesday.
While the Senate is seen as possibly moving toward endorsing expansion, House leaders remain opposed.
“I’m very skeptical that inflexible law is going to help Floridians,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Thursday.
The chairman of the House committee reviewing the law agreed.
“There’s clearly cost issues, you’ve seen that through the testimony,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. ”We have a good estimating system, but the numbers are all over the place.”
Under the expansion, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion until 2016, when states would start paying a 5 percent share that would gradually increase to a maximum of 10 percent of new costs by 2020.
Estimates vary, but analysts have said Medicaid expansion could bring Florida $26 billion in federal dollars over the next decade. Florida taxpayers are expected to pay $3 billion during that period, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
Scott abandoned his longtime opposition to expansion last week, saying it made sense for Florida to embrace the move for at least the first three years when it would be fully financed by the federal government.
The program also would be opened for the first time to non-disabled adults without dependent children — a population that Florida officials warn could prove costly. But that expansion is certain to include many service- and tourist-industry employees who comprise a large share of Florida’s workforce.
In January, individuals earning roughly $15,000 would qualify for Medicaid coverage under the expansion. A family of three earning $26,300 would be eligible.
“Medicaid expansion will save lives,” Verna Pearson, a nurse from Weatherford’s home district in Wesley Chapel, told the House panel Thursday. ”As a health care worker, that’s what we’re here to do.”
The House committee is scheduled to meet again Monday, and also huddle that day in a separate hearing with its Senate counterpart for another round of testimony. Both sides could make recommendations to the full House and Senate on what course the state should take.
The House committee Thursday did agree it made sense to expand the state-employee health insurance program to cover some 8,700 temporary, part-time state workers, a group currently uninsured.
Officials said it could cost Florida taxpayers $35 million to cover this group. But the federal government threatens to impose a $318 million fine on the state for not providing coverage.
Corcoran, though, said the Legislature is struggling to grasp the enormity of change the law sets in motion. Among them, could be a rising shortage of doctors to serve elderly Floridians, if 1 million Medicaid patients are added to state rolls.
“This is about as big an issue as I’ve ever seen come through this Legislature,” Corcoran said.