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Businesses Driving Expansion Push

Florida's Legislature has twice turned down proposals to provide health insurance for nearly 1 million state residents.  And the new House Speaker on Wednesday said he had “no plans” to expand Medicaid for the people caught in the so-called coverage gap.

But still state business leaders – and some mayors – continue to rally and aim to take another swing at it when the Legislature convenes March 3.

Mayors from Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater on Wednesday used their Bay Area Mayors’ Conference to rally the business community to support “A Healthy Florida Works,” a private insurance alternative to federal Medicaid expansion they think might pass state legislative muster.

“This is not a political issue. This is a quality of life issue,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told a supportive crowd at St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater. “It’s not a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue. It is time for that bickering and that partisanship to stop. This is a fundamental right.”

Coincidentally as the conference took place, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli was dismissing the concept of Medicaid expansion at a Tallahassee news conference. His statements echoed those made by House Leaders in the past two sessions.

Senate President Andy Gardiner did say he was open to a Medicaid expansion alternative. He specifically referenced a plan approved by another Republican-led legislature - in Indiana.

Florida Hospital Association President Bruce Reuben said the Indiana proposal approved this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is a lot like A Healthy Florida Works.

He said A Healthy Florida Works requires participants to pay premiums on an income-based sliding scale. Participants also must be students, have a job or at least be looking.

“The two proposals have many similarities; they're both premium-support approaches,” he said. “They both utilize something like a health savings account… and they both have a sort of requirement for personal responsibility and accountability.”

He added that this year’s proposal has some additional ammunition: support from Florida’s business community, including the Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers and other business groups including the politically powerful Associated Industries of Florida.

Jason Altmire, a former member of Congress and Florida Blue’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Community Engagement, said he is seeing political ideologies about Medicaid expansion start to change.

He said he served in Congress with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a conservative Republican who sees the value of backing Medicaid expansion.

“If Gov. Pence can find a way to make that work for the citizens of Indiana, there is no reason we can’t find a way in Florida to make it work for our residents in Florida,” Altmire said. “It’s something we have to do.”

Mary Shedden is a reporter with WUSFin Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF.