Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, wants to deny one million Floridians access to the Medicaid program that bailed out his family.
Rep. Weatherford was trying to show empathy last week when he spoke of how the “safety net” had paid for the care of his cancer-stricken younger brother. Instead, he showed hypocrisy.
In a speech before the House and Senate on Tuesday, Rep. Weatherford said he opposes expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act but favors protection for families facing medical emergencies. Expansion would allow up to 1 million mostly working poor, childless adults to obtain medical coverage. “It was the safety net that picked my family up,” Rep. Weatherford said. “I will continue to believe in – and fight for – a strong safety net for Florida.”
What Rep. Weatherford didn’t say is that his family’s safety net was Medicaid. Even after his father told reporters that Medicaid paid the more than $100,000 in medical expenses for Peter Weatherford, who died at 2 years old from brain cancer, Rep. Weatherford still denied it, saying his father was mistaken. Eventually, he admitted that his family received help from the state’s Medically Needy program.
Medically Needy is a Medicaid program for people who earn too much for full Medicaid benefits but have high bills they can’t afford. Medicaid by any other name is still Medicaid.
Still, Rep. Weatherford defends his opposition to expansion: “I believe it forces Florida to expand a broken system that we have been battling Washington to fix, and I believe it will ultimately drive up the cost of health care.”
What plan does Rep. Weatherford have to cover Florida’s nearly 4 million uninsured? “I do not have an alternative solution now,” he said via email, “but I look forward to continuing to work with the Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to investigate options that may be better for our state.”
Health reform became law three years ago. They should have investigated options and come up with something by now.
Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, estimated last week that expansion would cost Florida $5.2 billion over 10 years. That’s just 10 percent of the total cost, estimated at $55 billion, which the federal government would cover.
A Senate panel studying the implications of the Affordable Care Act has postponed its recommendation on expansion. Rep. Weatherford cheered last week’s recommendation by a House panel against expansion.
Gov. Scott said he supports expanding Medicaid for the first three years that the feds would cover all costs. Then he would evaluate the program. The state’s share goes up after the third year but never exceeds 10 percent. Initially opposed to expansion, the governor also shared a family anecdote that, he says, led to his change of mind.
“As I wrestled with this decision,” Gov. Scott said, “I thought about my mom and her struggles to get my little brother the care he needed with little money. I concluded that…I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”
Rep. Weatherford’s personal experience should have led him to the same conclusion.
for The Post Editorial Board