Manatee County Commission balks at supporting Medicaid expansion

MANATEE -- Manatee County is running out of money for health care for the needy but commissioners Tuesday balked at supporting expansion of the Medicaid program, which would bring an estimated $51 billion to the state through the federal Affordable Care Act.

As the commission discussed its 2015 "wish list" for action by the Florida Legislature, Commissioner Carol Whitmore suggested the board might want to support expansion of the state-federal health insurance program for the poor.

Lawmakers could potentially extend coverage to 3.9 million uninsured Floridians, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"I think it's something glaring that's not on there," said Whitmore, a Republican.

But some of her fellow Republican commissioners said they could not support Medicaid expansion.

Commissioner Betsy Benac reported state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, had told her Medicaid now costs the state $23 billion. When asked if he intended to change his position opposing expansion, he replied he would not, Benac said.

"Already we're spending in this state $23 billion on Medicaid. If we expand it, yes, the federal government pays for it for the first three years," Benac said. "What happens after that? What are the costs we're talking about? You know, I can't support asking our taxpayers -- we couldn't get them to support locally funding health care -- how could we ask them to support a Medicaid expansion (when) we don't really know the full cost?"

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker noted lawmakers had promised an alternative plan, but failed to provide one. He suggested simply asking them to address health care costs.

"I would not be in agreement with putting on the platform, quote unquote, Medicaid, because I want to leave the options open to our legislators to come up with a plan that would be good for the residents, and

I do know they're looking into it," said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.

For 30 years, the county has used invested proceeds from the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital to pay for care for the poor, but the funds will be exhausted next year.

If the 23 states that rejected expanding Medicaid under the 2010 health care law continue to do so the next eight years, those states would, in effect, pay $152 billion for the program in other states that did accept federal funds -- while receiving nothing in return, according to analysis by McClatchy Newspapers.

"This massive exodus of federal tax dollars from 2013 through 2022 would pay 37 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid in the 27 remaining states and Washington, D.C., over that time," the article said, noting nearly $88 billion would come from taxpayers in just five non-expansion states: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.