Chances Of A Medicaid Special Session Unlikely

May 10, 2013

Who won during the 2013 legislative session?  Teachers and state workers won. They’re getting pay raises. Democrats helped kill a controversial bill giving parents a greater say in the fate of failing schools.  Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford can claim victory. They got bills through revising the state’s ethics, elections and campaign finance laws.  A budget surplus this year means there were plenty of goodies to go around. So who, or what, came out on the losing side?

“The obvious loser is the uninsured Floridian. The person who doesn’t have health insurance, because nothing got done on that issue," said Dave Royse, News Director of the online News Service of Florida.

Royse was a recent guest on Florida Public Radio's "It's About Florida' show.

The low-income single, childless adult he mentions would have gained access to Medicaid through the federal healthcare overhaul law. A House alternative plan didn’t cover that group of people. It also rejected billions of federal dollars that would have come into the state. The Senate and Governor wanted to take those dollars to help low-income people qualifying for the Medicaid expansion to purchase private health plans. But when the hanky’s dropped marking the end of the 2013 legislative session, there was no deal.

“There is no excuse that the Florida legislature is denying healthcare to a million people in Florida,”  says Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

Nelson is asking Governor Rick Scott to call a special session on Medicaid. Nelson says the way to put pressure on the House to change it’s mind is to drag lawmakers back to Tallahassee:

“Let them, under the glare of the spotlight, have to vote on whether or not over a million people are going to get healthcare and not in Florida.”   

House Democrats are also calling for a Special Session. But political scientist Carol Weissert says, she doesn’t think those calls will be effective.

“There isn’t any real pressing need for them to act right away. And I think there is some wheeling and dealing going on that’s going to be very hard in a special session. So my guess is that it’s just going to hang there until 2014.”

Weissert says a big part of the problem is an ideological split in the Republican Party, which still dominates the legislature. For example, Senate Republicans who represent a wider constituency, back accepting federal money to help a million low-income people purchase private plans. Governor Rick Scott, who needs independent voters in 2014—is also supporting the expansion. But House Republicans, who killed any deal, are still solidly in the “no” side:

Despite calls from business groups who face penalties for having employees uninsured, and healthcare groups who point to higher costs and worse health outcomes for uninsured people, House Speaker Will Weatherford has said he doesn’t see a reason to call lawmakers back to Tallahassee.  The House’s answer will still be “No”. The Medicaid expansion is set to go into effect in January, and the longer Florida waits, the more federal matching money it stands to lose. But Weissert says, “We’ve missed deadlines before.”  

For example, Florida adopted the main Medicaid program in 1970, four years after it began. There isn’t a deadline for when states have to accept or reject the federal Medicaid expansion. But in the meantime, a million low-income Floridians will remain uninsured.