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Researchers: Medicaid Expansion Would Pay Off for Florida

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida could gain a badly-needed economic boost and thousands of new jobs each year if state officials accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, three new studies say.

One study calculates the payoff at 16-to-1.

The studies -- two by university researchers, one by a hospital association -- agree on the fiscal benefit of enlarging the health program for the poor. It's an example of benefiting by  doing the right thing, they say.

"The state can actually both save money and serve an additional million Floridians -- both adults and children -- by making the choice to extend their Medicaid program," said Joan Alker of Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute,  co-author of one of the studies.

Opponents of accepting the federal funds say they don't believe the expansion would yield the economic benefits the studies claim. And they say it's a waste of taxpayers' money at a time of deficit-cutting.

"To present this as a 16-to-1 return just neglects the reality that this is all deficit spending money that eventually we’ll have to pay back," said Tarren Bragdon, president of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank in Naples. "It’s not some magical money that they’re printing in Washington.”

But Alker said the money flows to Washington from Floridians, and this is an opportunity to get some of it back.

"If Florida decides not to take up this generous offer of federal funding, Florida taxpayers will be at a double loss," Alker said. "We believe this would be a very hard offer to turn down."

It's all about 'ObamaCare'

Until this week, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature had said no to everything connected to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the opportunity to expand the Medicaid program to cover more of the working poor. The state turned down millions of dollars' worth of grants related to the ACA.

But now that the Supreme Court has said the law is constitutional and the voters have re-elected Pres. Barack Obama, Florida officials have signaled a willingness to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

On Wednesday night, Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schultz released a statement that read: “Gov. Scott wants to work with HHS to identify health care solutions that are good for Florida families by reducing cost and improving quality and access in health care."

Schultz said Scott "has said that just saying ‘no’ is not an acceptable answer and he looks forward to having a conversation that is solution-oriented."

Whether to expand Medicaid is one of two major decisions that faces Scott and lawmakers as they organize for the 2013 legislative session. The other is whether Florida wants to play a role in developing the health exchange where the uninsured can shop for coverage beginning Oct. 1, 2013.

If states choose not to participate, their residents will have access to a federal health exchange, under the ACA. States' decisions are due on Friday; some lawmakers have hinted they favor a partnership arrangement, but the governor's office has not released information on that yet.

Meanwhile, the health-care industry and patient advocates remain more concerned about whether Florida will expand its Medicaid program to cover families under 135 percent of the poverty level.  The expansion would capture many adults who work in low-wage jobs, including parents of children now covered by state programs.

(more to come)

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.