Florida’s Scott May Press for U.S. Health Aid

Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, who spent at least $5 million of his own money opposing the U.S. health-care overhaul, may press state lawmakers to reconsider some of at least $17 million of federal aid they didn’t budget because it’s tied to the revamp.

Scott, 58, is deciding whether to ask the Republican- controlled Legislature to allow $2.1 million of U.S. grants to be spent on home care for the elderly and needy that it voted down in June, said Lane Wright, a spokesman in Tallahassee. He also may seek its approval to disburse $3.1 million of U.S. aid for child-abuse prevention lawmakers failed to allocate, Wright said.

Scott, a former hospital-chain executive, started Conservatives for Patients’ Rights in 2009 to object to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which became law last year. As governor since January, he has had no objection to using U.S. funds for programs in place before they became part of the Affordable Care Act, said Wright.

He remains opposed to “implementing any part of Obama-care that didn’t already exist,” he said. The governor turned down three grants worth a combined $4.1 million to set up a health- insurance exchange, regulate increases in rates and help residents appeal denial of care, said Wright.

Other states also rejected funds. Republican Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said in April her state would return $54 million to help set up an insurance exchange. Alaska Republican Sean Parnell said in February his state wouldn’t apply for $1 million.

Spending Blocked

Florida is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit by 26 states seeking to declare parts of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The state Legislature has done more than turn down money for new programs under the federal overhaul: It’s blocked spending of U.S. funds for federally funded programs not created by the act.

“The Florida House has a well-established policy of not implementing any portion of federal health-care reform” because of “questionable constitutionality,” said Katherine Betta, a spokeswoman for Speaker Dean Cannon, a Republican from Winter Park, near Orlando.

Scott may ask lawmakers to allow the spending of $3.1 million of U.S. grants for child-abuse prevention that they failed to release this year, Wright said. Without the anti-abuse program, Florida may not meet all requirements needed to compete for as much as $100 million of Race to the Top federal school grants.

Deadline Extension

The governor requested that the U.S. Health and Human Services Department extend the deadline for drawing down the anti-abuse funds and is waiting to see whether final Race to the Top rules require the program, Wright said.

“We haven’t made a decision about whether we’re going back in January,” when the legislative session begins, to ask for the money, said Wright.

The funds were never voted on by the Legislature, said Betta, and the House doesn’t see an “immediate threat” to the education grant. The chamber “will certainly evaluate and consider any recommendations from the governor’s office,” she said.

Other aid lawmakers didn’t appropriate includes $8.3 million for construction projects for the Osceola County Health Department, $2.1 million for children in hospice care under Medicaid, $108,000 for cancer prevention and $1.3 million to teach seniors about changes to the Medicare program, according to state House data.

Five-Year Grant

The $2.1 million rejected in June for care for the elderly and disabled in their houses instead of nursing homes was part of a $35.7 million five-year U.S. grant, according to the budget request.

Accepting the grant would have come with “significantly high administrative costs” imposed by the Affordable Care Act, Denise Grimsley, the Republican chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which voted down the appropriation, said in a statement. The program would also “be redundant” with other state long-term care efforts, she said.

Turning down readily available funds “does not make sense,” Jack McRay, advocacy manager for the Florida AARP, which represents the elderly, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s money to be used for the purpose of public health, money which would create jobs,” he said. “Florida ought to be sharing in that.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Simone Baribeau in Miami at sbaribeau@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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