Battle lines hardened Friday over health insurance as a House budget panel advanced a plan that falls far short of a more sweeping push backed by Gov. Rick Scott, the Senate and many business leaders.
The House proposal would extend health coverage to 115,000 Floridians living below the federal poverty line and cost state taxpayers $237 million annually.
By contrast, the Senate plan would cover 1.1 million more low-income residents than now but would be fully financed by federal dollars its first three years, while positioning Florida for $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade.
House Republicans said Friday that it’s wrong to expect the federal government to meet these financial promises and others laid out in the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s not based on ideology,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, about the House refusal. “It’s based on basic budget numbers.”
But stark ideological differences were apparent in Friday’s debate. Before advancing the House proposal in a partyline vote, ruling Republicans rejected a Democratic plan to expand the Medicaid program, an option granted states under the federal health care overhaul.
That approach was ridiculed for relying on a failing program and a federal government deep in debt.
“We’re looking at a massive redistribution plan,” Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said in describing the push to enhance Medicaid.
“How do your expand something to include 1 million people and say you are saving something?” he added. “Nothing is free. We don’t need more, more, more government dependency.”
The House plan would cost low-income Floridians $25 a month, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions.
Called Health Choices Plus, the plan would cover 115,000 uninsured parents, children and disabled Floridians, about one-tenth of the Senate proposal. A family of three earning less than $19,530 would qualify for coverage – but critics say out-of-pocket costs would prohibit many poor from taking part.
Unlike the Senate proposal, the House plan doesn’t cover childless adults who are not disabled.
The Senate’s Healthy Florida plan would require those in the program to pay modest monthly fees and co-payments to participate. But it would include families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $26,300 for a family of three, along with single adults earning as much as $15,586.
Florida is home to almost 4 million uninsured residents. The Senate plan has been praised by supporters as helping cover many low-income workers in the state’s tourism, health care and service industries who currently have no health insurance.
“A lot of Floridians are looking to you for a health care system…that they are able to afford,” said Karen Woodall, who lobbies for programs serving poor Floridians.