House Speaker Will Weatherford told the Florida Legislative Black Caucus last night that the House will offer its own alternative to expanding Medicaid, a move the Senate is considering to cover 1 million Floridians who lack health insurance.
Weatherford, who has rejected the Medicaid expansion, did not give any details about the plan but said that it would be “targeted” to vulnerable citizens such as the severely disabled on wait lists for services.
But he said the House plan will not be as broad as a Senate proposal crafted by budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would broaden Medicaid coverage to about 1 million low-income Floridians through a privatized plan using money available under the federal health care law.
“We will have a plan in the House. We’re not just sitting on our hands and saying we’re not going to do that. But whatever we do do is something that’s sustained if the government can’t continue to pay its share, something that we can afford without having to do a massive tax increase on our citizens,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told about a dozen black lawmakers Monday night.
“Florida should blaze its own path and do it its way,” he said.
Black caucus chairwoman Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, brought up the issue during her introduction of Weatherford. She pointed out that the Senate has an alternative to the expansion and that Gov. Rick Scott, once a fierce opponent of “Obamacare,” reversed his opposition to the expansion and now supports it.
“We want to hear from you on this…All of the folks that we represent who are disproportionately affected by the lack of quality care. It’s on you, Mr. Speaker,” Joyner said.
Weatherford said he wants to make sure that the neediest Floridians who currently lack health insurance get it. He said thousands of children and adult who can’t take care of themselves are waiting for services. The Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law would cover individuals at up to 138 percent of the poverty level, about “600,000 of them that are able-bodied adults that don’t have children” in Florida, he said.
“We’re going to give all 600,000 of them free health care through the federal government while somebody else waits in line with a real disability. I’ve got a problem with that,” Weatherford said.
When pressed by reporters for details after the meeting, Weatherford said he was not sure which committee would offer the House proposal, or when. The legislature is at the mid-point in the 60-day session that ends on May 3.
“We still have time. We want to make sure it’s a fully-baked plan, not half-baked. The all-or-nothing approach that’s been suggested by Washington, D.C., the inflexible nature of it is not good for Florida,” he said. “Whatever our approach is, I think it will be one that is more targeted and less shotgun.”
Gov. Rick Scott reversed his position on the issue and now supports the Medicaid expansion, but committees in both chambers rejected that idea. And Weatherford has refused to budget on the issue.
State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has come up with another plan in which the state would subsidize health insurance costs for low-income Floridians. That proposal has not yet had a hearing. The Senate is moving forward with a plan by Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would allow the state to draw down federal funds to cover about 1 million uninsured Floridians through privatized health care plans.
Weatherford said House leaders are “looking at all the alternatives that are out there.”
But, he said, “before we put something out there for public consumption we want to make sure it’s well thought out and it addresses the safety net needs of the state,” he said. “We don’t have a drop-dead date but we’re working on it and it’s forthcoming.”