To Florida House: Take business-friendly view of Medicaid funds

June 26, 2013 

051713WEATHERFORD

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, addresses the Manatee Chamber of Commerce lunch on May 15 at the Bradenton Country Club. JIM DE LA/Bradenton Herald

JIM DELA

The argument against Florida accepting billions in federal Medicaid money -- our tax dollars -- becomes weaker and weaker with each passing day. Even the traditionally steadfast allies of Republicans -- those in the business community -- no longer support the intransigent ideological position of certain GOP legislative leaders.

Last week national and state business experts presented additional compelling points in favor of accepting $51 billion over 10 years to provide health care for the poor and medically needy.

The Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents large companies (including Disney, Target and Walmart) in all 50 states, and the Florida Health Care Coalition, which represents some of the state's largest businesses, both sounded the alarm about the negative impact to Florida employers should the state remain opposed to federal Medicaid money.

Companies will restrict growth, businesses will move to states that offer more competitive health insurance markets and remaining companies that offer health coverage will pay more as hospitals and doctors shift costs for indigent care. When a large portion of a population lacks insurance, that "cost shift" amounts to an extra 30 percent placed onto the charges billed to commercially insured patients, according to the Pacific Business Group on Health.

Nearly 1 million Floridians earning around $15,800 or less would be covered should the state embrace Medicaid aid, albeit on our own terms. This would help Manatee County's plight with the rapidly evaporating health care trust fund that covers some of the cost of medical treatments for the indigent.

Medicaid assistance would also be a boon to the state's economy. The University of Florida has estimated more than 121,000 permanent jobs would be created over the next 10 years.

Two of the state's leading business organizations, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, have been vocal proponents of Medicaid expansion. Even avowed conservative Gov. Rick Scott supports this move.

But Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford remains tone deaf to calls for acceptance of federal money, his excuse being the U.S. government might -- "might" being the flimsy operative word here -- renege on its pledge to pay 90 percent of the cost after three years of paying the total bill for expansion.

The Wesley Chapel Republican's tenuous position is at odds with the economic advantages of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. That law assumes states would agree to expand the program and thus phases out federal aid for uncompensated patient care. That will place yet another burden on Florida's economy.

One additional point bears repeating. Some 400,000 Floridians who would have been covered in an expansion of Medicaid are eligible to purchase health insurance on the exchanges that will be created under ACA. But owners of businesses with more than 50 employees are subject to fines should even one worker purchase a policy via an exchange -- $2,000 for each full-time employee, though the first 30 don't count toward fines. Jackson Hewitt, a tax preparation service, calculated the state's employers could be on the hook for $145.7 million in federal penalties annually.

Neither Weatherford nor Senate President Don Gaetz indicates any willingness to address this issue again, despite all the business-friendly aspects to acceptance and despite Senate approval of federal aid during this year's regular session of the Legislature. The Senate's reasonable measure would have covered those 1 million uninsured Floridians with private insurance.

The two should call a special session. The state has until mid-January to come to a final decision. The economic factors trump the ideological ones by a landslide. We urge Manatee County's two Republican House members, Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, to lobby the speaker in favor of this prudent public policy.

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