Florida, reverse course on health care for the poor, accept Medicaid expansion

April 3, 2014 

Florida's major business organizations, hospitals and grassroots advocacy groups favor the federal expansion of Medicaid to serve hundreds of thousands of poor residents yet House Republicans continue to rebuff those overtures.

After the state Senate overwhelmingly approved accepting billions in federal aid last year for Medicaid -- money that could benefit business and the health care industry -- House GOP leaders rejected the legislation and now say there's no need to debate the same points.

With upwards of a million Floridians lacking health care insurance, the debate should be resumed.

Medicaid expansion supporters should redouble their lobbying efforts. The Senate legislation allowed federal aid to purchase private insurance policies for poor residents instead of direct entry into Medicaid.

The Obama administration is allowing states flexibility in expansion programs under the confines of the Affordable Care Act, defeating one of the primary arguments against acceptance. Three states -- Arkansas, Michigan and Iowa -- have taken advantage of that flexibility.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, refuses to listen to expansion advocates, despite the strong pragmatic and moral principles involved here. With thousands of new jobs and a healthier population, Florida would benefit handsomely from $51 billion in federal Medicaid funding over the next decade.

The federal government would pay the entire cost for three years and no less than 90 percent thereafter, a bargain for Florida's economy and health. Our tax dollars will now go elsewhere because of ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Yet Floridians are flocking to Obamacare despite the state's stout Republican opposition -- in enrollment numbers exceeding expectations. That message is being ignored in Tallahassee.

This is an election year, and voters can deliver a stronger message at polling places.

A one-time supporter of Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott abandoned that position and remains quiet on the issue. That surrender to political pressure undermines his leadership skills.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce continues to support expansion alongside the health care industry, the NAACP and the Florida League of Women Voters.

The Legislature should resume debate on this, and Manatee County's delegation should join the chorus calling for greater consideration.

One way or another, we all pay for health care for the poor. We can't wish that away. If we ensure they are healthier, those societal costs will decline.

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