Floridians still processing impact of SCOTUS healthcare ruling

Jun 29, 2012

The high court’s decision to uphold the so-called individual mandate caught Florida’s Republican leaders off-guard.

 “Where we expecting this ruling? No, of course not,” said State Attorney General Pam Bondi. She and Governor Rick Scott were two of several Florida Republicans who won election in 2010 by riding a wave of opposition against the Obama Administration fueled partly by the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Bondi carried on Florida’s fight against the law started by her predecessor, Bill McCollum. And said all the while that she believed the law would be kicked out. Now, Bondi says the ruling was still a victory for Florida—though, not in the way she and other Republican officials were expecting.

 “We now have a choice of whether to go forward with the Medicaid Expansion. We have to decide and we have to do it quickly working with our governor and our legislature.”  

Florida now has a “choice” on whether to cover an additional one-million Floridians who will become eligible for Medicaid in the next few years. Medicaid is the state-and-federal partnership for the poor. The federal government told states that they had to comply or risk losing billions in federal support. But justices said that all-or-nothing approach isn’t fair.  Sound- “I’m just absolutely concerned for the citizens of our state. The cost, the rationing of care, its going to have a dramatic impact on jobs. I’m just very disappointed with what happened.  

Governor Rick Scott said Friday that it’s unlikely Florida will go forward with the now-optional Medicaid expansion. The federal government would pick up 90 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid but Scott says it’s the 10 percent that falls to the state’s that he’s worried about. The state puts the cost at about $800 million a year. Other groups say the cost is around $200 million.  Healthcare consumer advocates say they’re confident Florida will eventually join the expansion due to the lure of billions of dollars in federal aid coming down to support it. In the meantime, supporters of the law continue to celebrate the fact that the Supreme Court has deemed it constitutional.

 “Yesterday was a celebration. And I did my part last night with a glass of Prosecco in my hand before I went to sleep,” said Florida Alliance for Retired Americans state secretary Barbara DeVane.  She says she’s looking forward to provisions that protect seniors, such as making sure primary care visits are covered—and the closing of a loophole called the donut hole, which by the year 2020, will mean that seniors on Medicare will see significant cost savings on their prescriptions.

But not everyone shares DeVane’s enthusiasm. Many business groups like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, opposed the law saying it created too much uncertainty. NFIB was also a party to the lawsuit trying to get the healthcare law overturned. The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s President Mark Wilson says groups are still waiting to see what the law means for them and whether the outcome of the 2012 election will bring about even more changes despite the high court’s decision: 

 “We’re living in a world of uncertainty. Who knows what’s going to happen in the Presidential election, who knows what’s going to happen in the U.S. Senate races. This thing can go a dozen different directions,” he said.

And while many business associations may not be happy with the outcome, the same isn’t true for some businesses themselves.

 “What it means for my business is, I’m hoping, that as more people are insured and the rates come down, we’ll be able to extend our help to be able to help our staff with health insurance needs,” said Wendy Halleck, owner of Tallahassee-based Quarter Moon Imports clothing store. “I’ve heard some criticism that this will discourage business owners from providing benefits to their staff, but I think it’s just the opposite.”   

Halleck says she’s looking forward to being able to offer health insurance to her employees. She now has two full-time positions and four part-time workers. And last year, she got a surprise.

 “I was really excited last year, because it turned out that because I’m a business owner, the tax credit I got was on my personal income taxes, and I had no idea… I didn’t know I’d get that tax credit so that was really exciting news.”  

That tax credit is part of the healthcare law’s incentives for businesses to insure their employees. And several other parts of the law have already gone into effect, like allowing children to stay on their parents health plans longer, and no more co-pays for preventative care. Still more complex parts of the law, like health-insurance marketplaces, the Medicaid expansion and others, won’t be in effect for another few years. Florida’s Republican officials say, they aren’t in a hurry.