Lawmakers differ on Medicaid expansion following governor's announcement

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- Although Gov. Rick Scott has announced he supports expansion of the Medicaid program providing health insurance for the poor, local lawmakers Thursday were unsure how it might shake out in the Florida Legislature.

Republicans tended to be cautious and deliberative, while a Democrat wanted "fast and efficient implementation."

"The governor announced he would embrace Medicaid expansion, and so, what we are doing in the Senate in the Legislature as a whole is to be more cautious about it," said state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

"While I appreciate the governor's position, we are ultimately responsible to meet the needs of people from a fiscal standpoint," Galvano said.

One million Floridians now without health insurance would be covered under Medicaid if it were expanded.

Scott surprised many when he announced Wednesday that expansion with billions of dollars from the federal government constituted "common sense."

Under terms of the federal 2010 Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government will contribute money to

the states to pay the cost of expansion.

A Florida Senate committee has scheduled a joint meeting March 4 with the state House of Representatives to review the economic analysis of the expansion, Galvano said.

As far as setting up "exchanges" where Florida residents without health insurance can buy affordable policies, Galvano said officials prefer to observe the experiences of other states before doing anything.

The national healthcare reform requires every state to set up such exchanges, by itself, in partnership with the federal government, or in other ways.

A Senate committee has recommended that Florida not establish its own exchange "until we observe how it works with other states," said Galvano.

Taking the opposite view on Medicaid expansion was state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who said, "We're challenged to do fast and efficient implementation."

"It provides access to health care for those who have been locked out," said Rouson, whose district includes parts of Manatee County.

Rouson, who Wednesday was elected the minority speaker-designate in the House, said of the governor's announcement, "We're glad he's getting on the train because, certainly, the train was already moving down the track."

Rouson noted it was the governor who was reluctant to do more, but now, "he's telling you we've got to get this thing done."

State Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said he had not yet come to any kind of formal decision on Medicaid expansion "because we are still looking at things."

"The governor came out pretty quickly on this, it surprised us," said Holder. "We heard an announcement was coming soon, but we didn't expect it."

"We're being very deliberative in our process, and looking at all the data and really vetting it very, very closely," he said.

The Florida Legislature session is slated to convene March 5 in Tallahassee.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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