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Medicaid Impasse Sparks Rebellion

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

Democrats are so angry over House Republicans' refusal to accept federal funds to expand health coverage that they deliberately caused action on the floor to grind to a halt. The deliberate slowdown, which started  Tuesday afternoon, continued Wednesday, threatening to reduce the number of bills that will get a vote before Friday's end of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was visiting Tallahassee, took the opportunity to blast House Republicans' refusal to accept the funds, the Tampa Bay Timesreported. She said they were acting like spoiled children, pouting over the loss of the 2012 election.

She also called out Gov. Rick Scott for his "deathbed conversion" to Medicaid expansion, demanding that he put some muscle into the fight for the funds.

Democrats are in the minority, but they had enough votes to require that every bill be read in entirety, not just summarized-- a maneuver that takes so much time it could block many bills from getting a vote if the stall continues. The session is scheduled to end Friday. 

As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, House Speaker Will Weatherford ordered the use of an auto-reader software application the speaker's office said was called "Mary." The robot-like voice can read the bills more swiftly than a human can.

In a statement released to the press, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston suggested his caucus  reached this point reluctantly, unable to keep playing nice when so much is at stake -- more than $50 billion in federal funds for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Under state Sen. Joe Negron's Healthy Florida plan, the money would be used to provide private health-insurance coverage to an estimated 1.1 million of the state's low-income uninsured. According to a recent report by the Agency for Health Care Administration, the expansion would actually save the state money because it would no longer need some of the programs it now funds.

Calling it a "bipartisan plan," senators passed Healthy Florida on Tuesday with only one dissenting vote and sent it to the House. Having rejected the concept last week on a vote that mostly followed party lines, the House is not expected to take up the bill itself.

"It’s unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that a drastic situation requires drastic tactics," Thurston said.

He said the many uninsured people who could gain coverage may not even be aware that their fate could depend on the outcome of this standoff.  "Today, I want them to know that the 44-member House Democratic Caucus stands in support of them," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters, Gov. Rick Scott said he still has hopes that the House will pass the Senate plan. "There's a few days left in session and I'm very optimistic," he said. (In the video belowcomments on Medicaid are at 1:20.)

But Negron, sponsor of the Senate plan, said Monday that reaching agreement with the House was "unlikely."

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.