Florida House view of federal health care aid for the poor still shortsighted

January 31, 2014 

051713WEATHERFORD

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, addresses the Manatee Chamber of Commerce lunch inMay 2013 at the Bradenton Country Club. FILE PHOTO

JIM DELA

Florida's House of Representatives continues to ignore the compelling advantages of accepting the federal government's offer of $51 billion over a decade to expand medical care to the poor. House Speaker Will Weatherford stands as the leading sentry on the stone wall that blocks this humane and vital improvement for the health of almost a million Floridians.

Fresh evidence that his position violates a core GOP principle about business-friendly public policies has surfaced. By rejecting federal assistance for the expansion of Medicaid, Florida businesses with 50 or more employees will be subjected to as much as $253 million a year in tax penalties. The new report by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. shoots another hole in the House wall against expansion.

The Affordable Care Act fines large companies offering health coverage for employees who receive subsidized health insurance through exchanges. Those workers, earning anywhere between the poverty line and 138 percent of that government's income mark for the poor, would have received coverage under Medicaid expansion. But the House said no.

The more compassionate and prudent minds in the Senate wanted to accept those federal dollars and spend the money on private insurance instead -- another nod to GOP principles -- and won approval from Washington. That 38-1 vote during last year's legislative session proves bipartisan agreement on this pressing issue.

Even though the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs of this expansion for the first three years and then up to 90 percent of the bill in 2020, the House says no. Weatherford claims mistrust of Washington for living up to that policy and future pressure on the state budget.

Yet other Republican-dominated states are accepting federal assistance. Florida's House continues to stake out ideological opposition to Obamacare as the foundation to this stone wall.

Even such strong GOP allies as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida disagree -- in support of the health care industry. The Florida Hospital Association projects the creation of more than 100,000 jobs with health care expansion.

The cost of charity care -- a critical concern to Manatee County government, taxpayers and health care providers -- would drop, too.

The state Senate is poised to bring this up again with new legislation that resurrects last year's bill. The Republican who filed the measure this month, Sen. Rene Gracia of Hialeah, stated that it would be "irresponsible" to reject federal assistance, and he called on the House to set aside "partisan politics" and do the thing.

The economic and moral grounds for including struggling Florida families and workers into health programs available to everyone else should be the paramount concern, not ideology. Manatee County's two Republican representatives, Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, should buck House leadership and lobby the speaker to change course.

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