Florida Lawmakers Reject Medicaid Expansion Sought by Scott

Florida legislative committees rejected an expansion of Medicaid for the poor under President Barack Obama’s health-care law, a defeat for Republican Governor Rick Scott at the hands of his own party.

A Senate panel voted today against expanding Medicaid, an option for states made possible by Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A House of Representatives committee made the same decision on March 4.

The rebuke from the Republican-controlled legislature shows the difficulty that Scott, seeking re-election in 2014, will have winning approval during the legislative session. Lawmakers have until May 3, the last day of session, to change their minds on Medicaid.

At least eight Republican governors have backed Medicaid expansion. Some, like Scott, are facing opposition from Republican-controlled legislatures. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer held a news conference last week with doctors and nurses outside the Capitol to press lawmakers to support the measure.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in June that the federal government couldn’t force states to broaden the program under Obama’s health-care law. That means states decide.

Scott, 60, supports a “limited” expansion that would last three years.

Tea Party

Scott started his political career by opposing Obama’s health law with a Tea Party group, Conservatives for Patients Rights. A former chief executive officer of HCA Holdings Inc., he said he wouldn’t expand Medicaid after the Supreme Court upheld the law, and changed his position following the November presidential election.

On Dec. 19, he had an approval rating of 36 percent, according to a poll from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

An estimated 3.35 million of Florida’s 19.1 million residents receive Medicaid this year, according to the legislature’s Office of Economic and Democratic Research.

An expansion under the federal law -- which increases eligibility for a family of four earning as much as $31,800 this year -- would increase that by 1.28 million during the next 10 years, according to a November 2012 report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, a nonprofit group that researches health care.

Obama’s health law, which passed Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote, may extend insurance over the next decade to about 27 million people who are currently uninsured. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 8 million more will enroll in Medicaid programs next year because of the expansion.

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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