House unveils its low-cost answer to Medicaid expansionby John Kennedy | April 11th, 2013
Weeks after Republican legislative leaders defied Gov. Rick Scott and refused to expand Medicaid, the House rolled out a health insurance plan Thursday that parallels a longshot proposal already introduced in the Senate.
The House would build on Florida Health Choices, a five-year-old insurance marketplace designed for individuals and small businesses.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has advanced a similar approach in the Senate, where it has drawn little support compared with a more ambitious proposal from Senate budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
With just over three weeks remaining before the Legislature’s May 3 adjournment, the battle lines are clear. While Scott and Negron have expressed support for drawing billions of federal dollars to finance health coverage for an additional 1 million Floridians, the House proposal shuns federal money.
“The Florida House has developed a plan that will fit the needs of Florida, not the requirements of Washington,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “Our plan increases our commitment to a strong safety net and ensures Floridians are not on the hook for billions that we currently do not have.”
The House’s Florida Health Choices Plus would cover an additional 115,000 uninsured Floridians at a cost of $237 million annually to state taxpayers. Florida has close to 4 million residents without health coverage, contributing to hospitals losing $2.8 billion in charity care last year.
Democrats, hospitals and health-care organizations have joined advocates for low-income Floridians in pressing Republican leaders to embrace the Medicaid expansion allowed states under the Affordable Care Act.
Florida stands to draw $51 billion in federal aid at a cost to taxpayers of $3.5 billion over the next decade — with the first three years of the expansion fully paid for by the federal government.
Negron’s proposal in the Senate, if approved by the full Legislature and signed into law by Scott, is seen as likely winning approval from the Obama administration. That would clear the way for it to be financed as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion.
Following the plan’s release, House Democrats and Scott found rare symmetry.
Both sides gave a nod to the effort by House Republicans — but said it fell short.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale called it “bare-bones health coverage.”
“Though personally, at a glance, I am not enthralled by the proposal, I recognize that it is at least a minimal attempt toward achieving a legislative compromise on the important topic of health coverage for Floridians,” Thurston said.
Scott weighed-in supporting the Senate plan.
“The House’s plan will cost Florida taxpayers on top of what they are already taxed under the president’s new health care law,” Scott said. “This would be a double-hit to state taxpayers.”
He added, “The Senate’s plan will provide health care services to thousands of uninsured Floridians while the program is 100 percent federally funded. As it stands today, the Senate’s plan is in line with what I said I would support because it protects both state taxpayers and the uninsured in our state.”
Much of the proposal released Thursday by the House was devoted to making a case against expanding Medicaid. The Health Choices Plus plan would cost low-income Floridians $25-a-month, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions.
Those taking part in the program would be expected to be employed, unless they could not work because of a disability.
Health care advocates earlier questioned the similar Bean proposal in the Senate — saying it’s lack of significant financing would blunt the kind of coverage Floridians could obtain.