Senate panel joins House in defying Scott, rejecting Medicaid expansionby John Kennedy | March 11th, 2013
A Senate panel Monday joined its House counterpart in rejecting Gov. Rick Scott’s push to expand Medicaid to bring health coverage to another 1 million lower-income Floridians.
The partyline vote came after Republicans ridiculed the expansion as building on a broken Medicaid system. Scott’s call to at least try the expansion for the three years it will be fully financed by the federal government also carried little weight with critics.
But Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said lawmakers will work on devising their own plan — one that will likely be subject to lengthy review by the federal government.
“I do not see the solution as doing nothing,” Simmons said. “But I do not see the solution being Medicaid expansion in its traditional form.”
Lawmakers are talking of trying to craft a Florida plan similar to that proposed in Arkansas, where patients qualifying for Medicaid would use federal dollars to buy private coverage through still being-developed online marketplaces, called health exchanges.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Senate panel that has been exploring the Affordable Care Act, said he sees using the Florida Healthy Kids program to expand health coverage to lower-income Floridians.
Negron likened Medicaid currently to a 1950s-styled Soviet program. Rather than building on it, lawmakers were “rejecting the Washington plan while creating a Florida plan,” he said.
Scott, however, found a silver lining in the move.
“I am confident that the Legislature will do the right thing and find a way to protect taxpayers and the uninsured in our state while the new health care law provides 100 percent federal funding,” Scott said after the 7-4 vote, in which the only support for Medicaid expansion came from Democrats.
Florida could draw $51 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years with the Medicaid expansion, an amount recent revised upward by state economists. While the first three years would be fully covered by federal officials, state taxpayers would pay $5.2 billion to get the dollars through the subseqent seven years.
Democrats were stunned — pointing out that Republican leaders were also defying major business associations and Florida hospitals, which also have embraced the expansion.
“We have a moral and economic responsibility to seize this moment for the good of Floridians,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.”
Defying conservatives in his own party, Scott last month said he wanted the Legislature to approve expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level, a move which would make eligible about 1 million more Floridians.
Medicaid already serves 3.2 million people and absorbs almost one-third of the state’s $70 billion budget. But saying no to expansion just means Florida tax dollars will be spent in other states, supporters have said.
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.