State News
5:56 pm
Fri March 15, 2013

House Dems Demand Using Federal Money To Expand Health Coverage

A week after both houses of the Florida Legislature rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law, Democratic leaders in the Florida House are speaking out. House Democrats are saying more Floridians need insurance coverage as soon as possible, one way or another.

It’s a common refrain from Florida Democrats about the state’s lack of implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. House Minority Leader Perry Thurston talked to reporters on Thursday.

“We’re here to address the House Democratic position and perspective on the lack of vision and foot dragging by the House as well as the Senate on expanding medical coverage to working Floridians,” Thurston said.

The federal law offered Medicaid coverage to an additional million uninsured Floridians, and the expansion would have been funded entirely by the federal government for the first three years. House Minority Leader Pro Tempore Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) said, that’s an unprecedented offer.

“We’re looking at $55 billion of federal funds that we would be able to access over the next 10 years, and it would only cost the state $3 billion,” she said. “And those are dollars that we cannot afford to leave on the table or let other states take advantage of.”

Thurston said, the money would save the lives of people who are uninsured now.

“And as the study from the New England Journal of Medicine has indicated, by expanding this coverage, we will save the lives of Floridians over and above 5,000 annually,” he said. “That’s the critical thing that the citizens need to know about.”

He also said, hospitals and people who already have insurance should care about expanding coverage because they’re the ones who are ultimately paying for uninsured people.

“Clearly they’re going to continue to have to provide that uncompensated care. And that’s why we think that all Floridians should be concerned. Floridians who are fortunate enough to have insurance, those of us who do, will continue to bear the burden of that uncompensated care at the highest cost, emergency room service,” he said.

Hospitals had spoken out in support of the Medicaid expansion. But after the House and Senate voted no to expanding Medicaid, House Democratic leaders are saying, they could support an alternative proposal called the Florida Plan by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City). Under the plan, the state could potentially use the same amount of federal funding and channel it through a state program called Florida Healthy Kids to expand coverage to low-income parents.

“We want the coverage for the Floridians. And if it comes under a different name other than Affordable Health Care, if it’s the Florida Plan, we are in support of that,” Thurston said.

Jones said, any compromise plan must essentially provide the same coverage as the Medicaid expansion would have.

“Whatever plan the Florida plan comes up with, if it’s not us simply using what’s been laid out for us, we need to make sure those services and those levels of service are provided,” she said.

Jones says they include preventative care coverage, primary care doctors and making sure people are covered to see doctors near where they live.

And Thurston said, of all the ideas floating around in the Legislature, there’s one that’s simply not an option.

“There’s been talk about whether we would even seek to obtain that funding from the federal government,” he said. “We think the thought of not obtaining that funding is crazy, it’s a no-brainer.”

He said, Floridians should be “ in an uproar” at the idea of not extending health care coverage to more people.

Meanwhile, Sen. Negron is working on his Florida Plan proposal and has not presented a formal bill.