After healthcare law delay, Medicaid expansion in Florida remains in the shadows

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJuly 3, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- The Obama administration’s decision to delay the Affordable Care Act health insurance mandate on employers has lessened some of the leverage advocates of expanding Medicaid in Florida had on lawmakers, but it won’t end the debate.

On Wednesday, House Republicans cast the one-year delay as proof that lawmakers are right to worry about the consequences of the law, which they say is deeply flawed.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion, meanwhile, said the decisions of the federal government and the Legislature are unconnected.

“If it’s not ready for prime time, why are they trying to jam it down America’s throat?” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesely Chapel, said told the Herald/Times. “I think it just clearly shows that the whole thing is just half-baked.”

The Obama administration announced the year-long delay late Tuesday, saying businesses need additional time to comply. As part of the law, businesses with more than 50 employees must provide health care coverage to their workers or face steep fines.

The policy created questions about whether businesses would downsize their workforce or cut workers’ hours to skirt the new requirements.

In Florida, state lawmakers added a second wrinkle when they rejected plans to expand Medicaid. Here, businesses would have been required, starting next year, to provide health care coverage to people who otherwise might have qualified for Medicaid.

With that requirement now delayed, businesses are far less likely to pressure lawmakers to approve a Medicaid deal.

The healthcare law’s “heart is in the right place, but it’s such a massive change,” said Florida Retail Federation President Rick McAllister. “What happened this week should be a model for all aspects of it. Nobody is going to repeal this, but we can take our time and make it work.”

Bill Herrle, executive director of the Florida chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the delay “is evidence a poorly knit sweater is fraying at the edges.”

The federal government said it is pressing ahead with other parts of the law, including the so-called individual mandate, which requires that most Americans have health insurance or face a penalty.

The discussions in Washington should not affect what happens in Tallahassee, said Rep. Mike Fasano. Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was the lone House Republican to support using as much as $51 billion in federal money over 10 years to reduce the number of uninsured, a plan also supported by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

“With all great respect to them, one has noting to do with the other,” Fasano said.

Even before this week’s decision by the federal government, Senate President Don Gaetz had appealed to the Obama administration asking for flexibility from the terms of the Medicaid expansion, which requires the state cover anyone who meets the income threshold.

Gaetz said Florida should be allowed to choose who is covered under an expansion and be allowed to charge more for doctor visits and premiums than the program currently allows.

McAllister, with the Florida Retail Federation, said he thinks Tuesday’s announcement does little to change the dynamic in Tallahassee — where House Republicans seem dug in against the healthcare law.

“I’ve heard Will Weatherford say he thinks it’s a bait-and-switch,” he said. “The speaker is not inclined to revisit the issue — which is pretty much a death knell.

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