Scott Backs Obama Medicaid Expansion in Florida Reversal

Florida Governor Rick Scott supports expanding Medicaid in his state under President Barack Obama’s health-care law, at least while the federal government pays for it, a reversal of the Republican’s previous position.

Scott said yesterday in Tallahassee that he’ll ask state lawmakers to back the expansion. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in June, Scott said he wouldn’t expand Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor, in Florida. Once Obama won re-election in November, Scott said he was open to it.

He joins six other Republican governors who have agreed to expand Medicaid in their states, according to a tally by the Advisory Board Co., a research and consulting company in Washington. Scott and four party colleagues who are backing the expansion -- John Kasich of Ohio, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Rick Snyder of Michigan -- are up for re-election in 2014.

Expanding Medicaid under the federal law would add 1.28 million Floridians to the program during the next 10 years, according to a November 2012 report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, a nonprofit research group.

Scott said he supports a “limited” expansion that would last for three years, while the U.S. pays for the added cost. That’s a reasonable time to judge the expansion and “a compassionate, common-sense step forward,” he said.

No Surrender

“It is not a white flag of surrender to government-run health care,” Scott said. The states split Medicaid costs with the federal government.

Until 2017, the state won’t pay any of the cost of covering people made newly eligible for the program. Thereafter, states don’t have to pay more than 10 percent of the extra cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal government’s bill for the expansion will be about $638 billion through 2023. The states will pay about $63 billion, according to the CBO.

In the minutes before Scott’s announcement, Tea Party organizers urged activists to call and e-mail the governor’s office asking him to oppose expanding Medicaid.

“He’s worried about his re-election,” Slade O’Brien, Florida director for the Arlington, Virginia-based American’s for Prosperity, said by e-mail. “We can’t let Governor Scott put personal political ambition ahead of principled conservatism and what’s right for Florida taxpayers.”

Scott, a former hospital industry executive, started his political career by opposing Obama’s health law with a Tea Party group, Conservatives for Patients Rights. He won the governor’s office in November 2010 and is up for re-election next year.

‘Studying It’

An estimated 3.35 million of Florida’s 19.1 million residents already receive Medicaid, according to the state legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

To expand the program in Florida, state lawmakers must agree to do it. State Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville and Speaker Will Weatherford of the state House of Representatives, both Republicans, said in interviews that they’re undecided.

“We’re looking at it and we’re studying it, but there’s a lot of skepticism,” said Weatherford, of Wesley Chapel.

Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which passed Congress in early 2010 without a single Republican vote, may extend insurance over the next decade to about 27 million people who don’t have it. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 8 million more people will be covered by Medicaid next year because of the expansion, which raises income limits for eligibility.

Expansion in Florida would cost the federal government an estimated $66.1 billion during the next 10 years, according to the Kaiser report. The state’s cost during that time would be about $5.36 billion, according to the report.

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