House Republicans still insist on denying health insurance coverage to 975,000 Floridians and sticking taxpayers with a $2 billion tab for a substandard insurance program — just to snub the Obama administration on Medicaid. That is heartless and irresponsible.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and his colleagues have made a political calculation that they can reject federal money to help the working poor because the working poor have no lobbyists. They also have no ally in Gov. Rick Scott. He embraced Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act — after rejecting it for months — because he could not “in good conscience deny the uninsured access to care.” His conscience doesn’t bother him enough, though, to make that access a priority.
Gov. Scott issues statements saying he supports an alternative to Medicaid expansion proposed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would use billions from the feds to provide private insurance to 1.1 million Floridians. He won’t, however, put the influence of his office where his printer is. He’s made no attempt to persuade House leaders.
The House alternative makes no economic sense for the state — it would hurt hospitals that treat the uninsured — or for those it purports to help. Florida Health Choices Plus would insure only 115,00 people for $2 billion the first decade, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Enrollees would get $2,000 toward insurance, pay $25 monthly premiums and have to meet a $2,500 deductible, which most of those eligible cannot afford. The plan applies to individuals who earn $11,170 a year.
House members claim an aversion to entitlement programs. “We don’t need,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, “more, more, more government dependency.” Why, then, are 107 out of 120 House members paying $400 a year or less for their health plans while taxpayers pick up the bulk of the tab? Legislators work part-time. Most have other jobs. Meanwhile, full-time state workers pay as much as $2,200 a year for family coverage.
The claim by House Republicans that they loathe drinking from the federal trough is equally duplicitous. As Sen. Negron pointed out last week, about 35 percent of Florida’s budget comes from the federal government, the largest share for health care. “Let’s acknowledge,” he said, “there are some good uses of federal funds.”
Indeed. Rep. Weatherford and many Republicans voted for budgets during and after the Great Recession that included billions from President Barack Obama’s 2009 federal stimulus. It made sense. The money allowed the Legislature to balance the budget without making even deeper cuts.
Sen. Negron’s Healthy Florida plan also makes sense. It would insure all Floridians eligible under Medicaid expansion, at a cost of $2.5 billion over the first decade. The ACHA estimates that Florida would get more than $46 billion from the federal government during those 10 years.
Legislators have until next Friday to agree on a plan. Ditch the politics, do the math and have a heart.
for The Post Editorial Board