MANATEE -- Legislators faced pointed questions Monday about why they turned down an estimated $51 billion over 10 years from the federal government to expand health insurance for more than 1 million Floridians.
At a "Pancakes & Politics" recap of the just-concluded Florida Legislature session, Manatee lawmakers fielded a question from Dr. Richard Conard, who said all Americans would have access to basic health care beginning in January under terms of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Under the law, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of expanding the federal/state Medicaid program for low-income recipients for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.
Conard wanted to know if the Florida House was attempting to "change reality" by turning the money down.
The answer: Republican Speaker of the House Will Weatherford opposed it.
"It's the state's right to opt in or out," said state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. "Our speaker made a very direct issue; He said he's not going to support it."
"The bar was set pretty early, so when the leader of your chamber is taking a very staunch position, it would be difficult to take it up," Steube told the audience at a roundtable dis
cussion at the IMG Academy Golf Club.
Despite Gov. Rick Scott's support for the Affordable Care Act affiliation, the House turned down the billions in federal money.
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said the body's biggest concern was if "we put ourselves on the hook" for the long term and the U.S. government reneged.
He said he was "not saying that's a reality," but that it was the backdrop behind the House decision.
Unfortunately, the House took a hardline position out of the gate, and the governor did too, leaving the Senate "sort of in the middle," said state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
Possible compromises faltered, he said.
"The speaker did make the point we could watch and see what some of the other states will do," Galvano said, referring to Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Lawmakers said they were proud of passing ethics and elections reform bills and stipulating more education funding.
Steube was disappointed one of his bills failed: It would have let superintendents and principals designate school employees to carry concealed weapons.
"I will be doing that bill next year, looking to make it more of a license," said Steube.
He said he wanted to require school safety officers to take the same training as school resource officers: eight hours of active shooter training.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.