Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford told a national conservative audience Saturday that rejecting an expansion of Medicaid is one way Florida is standing up to a coercive federal government and becoming a “pocket of freedom.”
Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was featured as one of “10 Conservatives Under 40” at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington.
Weatherford, 33, was the third-oldest member on a panel of elected officials that regarded Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 41, as a kind of elder statesman. Connecticut state Sen. Art Linares, 24, spoke of being “inspired” to run after he worked in Rubio’s Washington office as a college student.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned as an opponent of the federal health care law in 2010, recently announced that he wants to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls by 1.3 million people because the federal government will cover the entire cost for the first three years under the health care law.
Weatherford and key state House and Senate committees have rejected the idea, saying the expansion could end up saddling the state with long-term costs.
At CPAC, Weatherford said rejecting the Medicaid expansion is a position of national significance.
“States have an amazing opportunity, but it’s a choice. We can choose to join the collectivism groupthink mentality that’s going on right here in Washington, or we can blaze our own path. … We can put a flag down and establish pockets of freedom all over America,” Weatherford said.
“States are being lured, and I would argue being coerced, into expanding programs like Medicaid and passing regulations not through federal mandate but with the promise of free money,” Weatherford said. “They’re trying to buy us off one by one. But I am not buying it. Florida will not buy it, and America should not buy it.”
Instead of the “inflexible” federal plan, Weatherford said, “we’ll work on our own solution, one that better reflects the needs and priorities of our state.”
Weatherford has been criticized for opposing the Medicaid expansion when his own family benefited in the 1990s from the Medicaid-funded Medically Needy program. The Weatherfords used the program when Weatherford’s infant brother battled and eventually died from cancer.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, Weatherford said Florida already has programs to address situations like his family faced.
“We as a state provide health care to children up to 200 percent of the poverty rate. We provide health care to people who have a disability. The idea of Medicaid expansion predominantly helps able-bodied, single adults, most of them childless. The question is, are those the people that we should be spending billions and billions of dollars on to provide insurance for?” Weatherford said. “If my brother were alive and had the similar issue, he would be covered.”