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Opinion

Speaker's Medicaid Stand Full of Holes

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Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford keeps listing the same old tired excuses for refusing to expand Medicaid to Florida's lowest-income uninsured, says Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano (paywall alert).

Romano lists the excuses and explains why they are simply not true.

--Reason No. 1: "Medicaid is a flawed system."

While accurate, Romano writes, it is irrelevant, because uninsured people would rather have flawed coverage than no coverage at all.

"This would be like denying a starving person a burger and fries because fast food is too fattening," he writes.

To continue to say this, as Weatherford frequently does, "is either clueless or heartless," Romano writes.

--"Promises are unbelievable." Weatherford says he doesn't trust the federal government to keep paying its share of the Medicaid expansion cost as promised, which is 100 percent for the first three years (2014-16) and sliding to 90 percent after that.

Romano says  there are two problems with that excuse: The Affordable Care Act is law, which means that it won't be easy for Republicans to defund it. And anyway the Florida Senate proposal that the House killed had an opt-out clause if the funding didn't come through.

--"State's struggles." Weatherford says that paying for Medicaid will hurt education, the prison system and the environment.  The problem with this argument, Romano writes, is that the Congressional Budget Office has found the program saves money by providing preventive care for people who otherwise would be running up emergency-room bills and unpaid hospital bills for advanced disease.

Also, he writes, if Florida discovered after a couple of years that the program was not paying for itself, the state could opt out.

--"All or nothing" approach. Weatherford argues that the federal government is handcuffing states, not allowing them to try better approaches. That is simply untrue, Romano writes.

The Florida Senate passed an alternative plan that would have used the funds for private insurance plans for the low-income uninsured -- the same approach that Arkansas passed and received federal approval for. It was Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and his allies who killed it.

"For him to claim otherwise seven months later is revisionist history," Romano writes. "It is nonsense."

Romano says Weatherford should have the courage to simply tell the truth: That his refusal to take the $51 billion in federal funds available for the plan over the coming decade is just about politics.