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Scott Blames Obamacare for Medicaid Mess

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

Gov. Rick Scott is blaming rising Medicaid costs on President Barack Obama's health law, even though the state's top economist said the two were not related.

State economists estimated Tuesday that the safety net health care program will rise in 2016-17 to a total of $24.8 billion, a cost that would require Florida legislators to come up with $579 million in state money alone to fill the gap.

The costs come on top of a request from health insurers seeking a $400 million raise and a 12 percent rate increase from the state, saying they can't afford to sustain further losses.

But the Republican governor strongly opposes pumping any additional state funds into the Medicaid program and wasn't happy when state lawmakers invested $400 million earlier this year in order to help out hospitals that were losing other types of federal aid.

The Medicaid program is finishing its first year under a new managed care structure that Scott fought vigorously for, arguing it would save the state money.

But now that the program seems in desperate need of additional funding, Scott is blaming the insurance companies and hospitals.

Officials estimated nearly 4.2 million will be enrolled in the Medicaid program in 2016-17, about a 4 percent increase from the previous year.

Scott, who formerly ran a chain of for-profit hospitals, has tried to show that the hospitals aren't as bad off financially as they maintain. He also has created a commission to examine hospitals' finances.

"The rising cost estimates of the Medicaid program under Obamacare, paired with the recent requests from some insurance plans for more funding and hospitals' continued requests for more state funding (even while making record profits this year of $3.7 billion) are impossible for the state to fulfill," Scott wrote in his letter.

Scott went on to say "Obamacare is costing taxpayers more than any estimates originally estimated."

However, Scott and House Republicans chose not to expand Medicaid to approximately 800,000 more Floridians under Obamacare, meaning that any additional enrollees would come from Floridians who were already eligible for the program. Many are children.

After the governor's letter was read at Tuesday' meeting, state economist Amy Baker seemed puzzled.

"It probably does not affect the work of the conference today ... I think most of what we've done today is really related to the caseload growth," Baker said.

The staff director of the House health care budget committee also agreed.

When asked to explain, a spokeswoman for Scott said it was fair to blame the health care overhaul because counselors hired to help people enroll on the federal health exchange wound up directing people to the state's traditional Medicaid program. These are people who already qualified for Medicaid under rules that were in place prior to the overhaul taking effect.

Insurance groups have said they're focused on delivering quality care while respecting every dollar of taxpayer funds, while hospital officials have said Scott's allegations against them are misplaced.

Scott has warned that a raise for insurers could undermine the 5 percent savings generated by the fledgling Medicaid program that gives federal funds to private health insurance companies to oversee medical care for more than 3 million poor and disabled people instead of reimbursing doctors and hospitals for each service.