Weatherford’s “safety net” tale undergoes another changeby John Kennedy | March 6th, 2013
House Speaker Will Weatherford’s poignant tale of his family being helped by a state “safety net” after his 2-year-old brother died of cancer underwent another change Wednesday.
Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he has now learned that his family’s bills were covered by the Medically Needy program, an optional service which helps transplant patients and families dealing with catastrophic illnesses.
Usually, those in the program have income levels which otherwise disqualify them for conventional Medicaid.
Weatherford now opposes expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level, a position at odds with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who supports expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Analysts say expanding Medicaid could bring another 1 million lower-income Floridians into the program. Most, like the Weatherford family at the time, have no insurance.
Weatherford had declined Tuesday to explain how his family was helped after telling a joint session of the Legislature that the family faced a “mountain of medical bills” but somehow found assistance.
Weatherford cited his family’s experience in declaring his support for a “strong safety net for Florida” even as he reaffirmed opposition to the Medicaid expansion.
But a Weatherford staffer later told the Palm Beach Post that Weatherford, after checking with his father, believed the family benefited from charity care. Medical professionals, basically, had written-off the family’s costs, he believed.
Further review by his family showed Wednesday that it was Medically Needy that helped, Weatherford said.
The Florida Hospital Association is supporting Medicaid expansion to reduce the $2.8 billion in uncompensated, charity care hospitals were forced to swallow last year. The Medically Needy program has been frequently targeted for elimination by lawmakers — but has endured.
“It is not surprising that recollections would be cloudy surrounding a time of great sorrow and difficulty,”Weatherford said in releasing a statement Wednesday which attemped to clarify the family’s situation. “Now that the safety net that benefitted my family has been clearly identified, I trust that the debate can return to the important question of Medicaid expansion and its impact on the economic and personal freedom of Floridians.”
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderale, though, said later that Weatherford’s family story makes a case for Medicaid expansion.
“Personal stories like the one involving Speaker Weatherford’s family are a factor in why Florida House Democratic Caucus members believe that more Floridians deserve a safety net under an expansion of Medicaid,” Thurston said.
He added, “I trust that my colleagues in the Legislature understand that rather than politicizing the Speaker’s tragic loss, we should focus now on the future of Florida’s health policy. ”