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Please: Less ideology, more common sense

We have a shortage of primary care doctors in the United States; we've known that for decades. It persists because better pay and perks go to specialists -- even those who have much less grueling schedules and responsibility.

It's particularly hard to find primary-care doctors for Medicaid patients in Florida, since the amount the state pays is less than it costs to run an office.

So it would seem an unalloyed blessing that Florida has been offered more than $430 million in federal funds to boost the pay of primary-care doctors who see Medicaid patients. No strings attached!

The Senate put the money in the budget. But the House, in cahoots with Gov. Rick Scott, insisted on taking it out.

So that money -- which Floridians sent to Washington through their federal taxes -- will go to some other state instead.

The reason Scott and his minions in the House refused the federal funds is that they are part of the Affordable Care Act, which Florida's elected officials are fighting in court. The Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments in a few weeks and is expected to rule by June.

If Florida wins and the law is thrown out, maybe the money goes with it. Maybe not. But what if Florida loses the case, or loses just a part of it? Then the state will still have to cope with the same old problems of underfunded primary care.

This is political correctness trumping common sense.

"These are dollars Floridians have paid in their taxes and they deserve to come back to Florida, to address a big issue. We have a shortage of doctors in primary care,"  Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor said in a call to reporters on Wednesdasy.

Families USA's Ron Pollack said he knows of no other state turning down this particular line of funding for primary care. He called Scott's decision "an astounding and shortsighted act of political stubbornness and ideological rigidity."

Tallahassee pediatrician Louis St. Petery, who also was on the call, said it makes fiscal sense to assure Medicaid patients can find a doctor.

"It's all about access," St. Petery said. "If we can get Medicaid patients into a medical home, which is the same as a privately insured person has, it decreases the cost to the entire system. It's much less expensive, much more cost-effective than going to an emergency room or urgent-care center."

It is not too late for the House to come to its senses. The Florida Medical Association should lend its considerable lobbying strength to the effort. 

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.

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.