Medicaid Funding Frenzy Grows at Capitol

Apr 10, 2013

Republicans who control the Florida House hint they're about to unveil their version of a health plan for the state's low-income uninsured between now and Monday. It appears that they still intend to turn down more than $50 billion in federal funds that would pay the tab.

Meanwhile, calls grew louder for House leaders to accept the money. Gov. Rick Scott said, "We're already paying the taxes" and the money will simply go to another state if Florida turns it down.  State Rep. Mike Fasano went farther, saying he hopes his fellow House Republicans "come to their senses."

The funds in question were authorized under the Affordable Care Act to cover those with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If Florida accepted the federal funds, an estimated 1 million needy adults, most of them in the workforce, could gain access to primary and preventive care.

The Senate has two pending plans, both of which would use private-sector plans instead of Medicaid. Sen. Joe Negron's Healthy Florida would be financed through federal funds; Sen. Aaron Bean's would not.

Here is a summary of Tuesday's Medicaid-expansion-related events:

--House leaders blocked out a four-hour scheduled meeting next Monday for the Select Committee on the Affordable Care Act, a sign that their long-awaited health plan for the low-income uninsured will soon be released.  That committee is chaired by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

According to a report from The Times/Herald Bureau, Rep. Mike Fasano said he heard that the plan would be funded only by state tax money, with no federal funds. This is consistent with statements Corcoran has made to Health News Florida that he doesn't want to accept federal funding that might not last; he said whatever Florida does must be "sustainable." 

--In a Q/A with a Times/Herald writer, Gov. Rick Scott repeated his reasons for backing the expansion of Medicaid to those who have incomes so low they cannot buy coverage. Noting that the federal government will provide 100 percent of the funding for the first three years, he says it's only logical.

"We're already paying the taxes," he said. "The federal government is basically reimbursing us dollars we're already paying."

Both the Senate and House Select Committees on the Affordable Care Act have turned down the expansion of traditional Medicaid, but various lawmakers are putting forward alternative plans aimed at accomplishing the same goal of getting low-income uninsured covered.

--Doctors and patients came to Tallahassee to speak out on the benefits of Medicaid to young people and to call for the Legislature to expand the program -- or one that accomplishes the same goals and relies on the same funds, as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

One 19-year-old Naples man who has muscular dystrophy talked about how he lost his health coverage on his birthday because Medicaid only covers children through age 18. The Fort Myers News-Press has an account.

Several doctors and hospital executives from around the state also took the microphone to ask that the Legislature act on behalf of low-income families who lack health coverage.  Here is a YouTube video.

--Associated Industries of Florida urged the Legislature to accept the federal funds, pointing to a recent advisory from Moody's Investor Service that said hospitals that treat a large share of the poor and uninsured will take a huge financial hit if the state turns down the federal funds for Medicaid expansion. The Moody's letter said the state budget and employers will also be hurt if the Legislature turns down the money.