Drawing a sharp contrast Tuesday with Gov. Rick Scott over Medicaid expansion in Florida, House Speaker Will Weatherford drew on his own family history — recalling a brother who died of cancer at age 2.
Weatherford said he believes in providing a safety net for the poor — because his own family benefited from it when facing staggering medical bills.
But when pressed later to explain the help given his family, Weatherford was at a loss.
Later, however, a Weatherford staffer called The Palm Beach Post to acknowledge that charity care apparently covered the family’s expenses.
Easing the taxpayer cost of such uncompensated care, which amounted to $2.8 billion last year, is one reason Florida hospitals say they favor Medicaid expansion.
In the morning speech explaining his resistance to expanding health coverage for the poor, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told the House and Senate, meeting in a joint session on the Legislature’s opening day, about his family’s circumstances when he was 15 and his brother, Peter, age 2, died of cancer after surgeries and a year’s worth of treatment had drained the family’s savings.
His father, who was self-employed, and his mother, who home-schooled the family’s nine children, faced a “mountain of medical bills,” Weatherford, 33, said. The family was uninsured.
“It was the safety net that picked my family up,” Weatherford said. “I will continue to believe in – and fight for – a strong safety net for Florida.”
Hours after his speech, when asked to expand on his story, Weatherford told reporters that his family didn’t receive Medicaid. He also initially declined to answer whether medical professionals wrote off the family’s cost as uncompensated charity care.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics of what my parents had to deal with,” he said. A staffer later said Weatherford believes the care his family received probably was uncompensated.
With Scott and the Senate seen as more supportive of expansion, Weatherford and the House loom as an obstacle to the Legislature endorsing the plan to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of poverty.
State analysts say it could make 1 million lower-income Floridians eligible for health coverage. But Weatherford ridiculed the step as an embrace of big government.
“When it comes to Medicaid expansion, that is a different conversation,” Weatherford said. “You’re talking about federal money that is being promised from a federal government that, quite frankly, is not paying its own bills.”
Weatherford’s stance reflects the opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul led for years by Scott and other Florida Republican leaders. Scott, however, last month endorsed the expansion as a “common sense” deal for the state.
Weatherford, though, doesn’t see it that way.
“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,” he said.