By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Members of the more conservative Florida House released their alternative plan to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act last week. So far, Democrats and Republican Gov. Rick Scott have criticized the plan.
The House plan would expand coverage to fewer people and would not accept the federal money set aside for expanding coverage, which would saddle the state with the additional costs.
Both the GOP-led Florida House and Senate have been opposed to accepting the millions of dollars set aside for Florida in the health care law to expand Medicaid to about 1.3 million people in the state without health care coverage.
Proponents of accepting the money and expanding Medicaid have said it would create jobs in the health care sector and would help a population that otherwise has few options. For the first few years of the expansion, the federal government will foot 100 percent of the bill. However, opponents have noted that once the federal government pays a smaller percentage of the state’s larger Medicaid program, the state will have added costs.
But it’s getting harder for lawmakers to justify not taking the money. Scott, who fought the health care law even before he was elected governor, has said that denying those millions of dollars would be a bad idea. Whether or not the Legislature accepts the money, Floridians will have to pay taxes to the federal government for programs in other states.
The Florida Senate has looked into alternatives. State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, has proposed accepting the federal funds and offering insurance through Florida Healthy Kids. State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has also introduced a new plan for the money.
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was among the most significant House members opposed to Medicaid expansion — even though he admitted that his family relied on Medicaid when they were struggling financially and his brother was dying of cancer. However, more recently, Weatherford said his position on expansion was softening.
The plan, though, does not achieve the federal government’s goals of Medicaid expansion.
As Carol Gentry of WUSF’s Health News Florida reports, the proposal “would leave out most of those the federal health law intended to cover”:
It would provide limited coverage to parents and disabled adults under 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The poverty level for a three-person family is about $19,500 a year.
For one person, it is about $11,500, but single people need not apply for the House plan.
Unlike the Senate plan proposed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the plan developed by Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Pasco Republican, would turn down billions of dollars in federal funds. It also would cover only 115,000, instead of the estimated 1 million or more of the uninsured low-income people the Senate plan would cover.
The proposal was also full of political rhetoric. Gentry reports that advocates for health care for the poor were “appalled” by the proposal.
Democrats also weren’t thrilled.
The House Democrats took a caucus position earlier this week to vote against the House budget if the Republicans did not come out with a plan to cover the low income individuals who would be eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The Democrats are expected to caucus again this afternoon to discuss the newly released plan and whether to hold that position.
Scott said in a press release he was also opposed to the bill, mostly because it would cost the state more than any of the other proposed plans:
Our challenge in healthcare is to best protect both the uninsured and the taxpayers in our state as we work to lower cost, expand access, and improve the quality of healthcare. The Legislature now has two different plans before them regarding the future of our healthcare system. The House’s plan will cost Florida taxpayers on top of what they are already taxed under the President’s new healthcare law. This would be a double-hit to state taxpayers. The Senate’s plan will provide healthcare services to thousands of uninsured Floridians while the program is 100 percent federally funded. As it stands today, the Senate’s plan is in line with what I said I would support because it protects both state taxpayers and the uninsured in our state. I look forward to continuing to work with both the House and the Senate as they discuss ways we can improve our healthcare system.
Democrats have said they are more open to voting for Negron’s plan, which would use the federal money to offer insurance through Florida Healthy Kids.