Medically Needy Was Weatherford Family Safety Net; Chances of Medicaid Expansion Dim

Mar 6, 2013

Update 5:15 pm: House Speaker Will Weatherford is clarifying  remarks about his family's uninsured status when he was a child. Tuesday Weatherford recounted his family's struggles in affording cancer treatments for his 13-month-old brother Peter, who died when Weatherford was 15. The speaker said his family relied on charity and "safety net" services. When asked by a reporter, Bill Weatherford, the speaker's father, recounted applying for and receiving Medicaid.

From House Speaker Will Weatherford:

“In speaking with my father prior to sharing this story, he believed the safety net that supported us was as a result of private and government funded charity. He did not believe that we were enrolled in Medicaid. After being questioned further by a reporter, my father recalled signing paperwork that may have resulted in Peter receiving Medicaid assistance after his surgery.

“As a result, my family worked to verify exactly what form of the safety net helped us in our time of need. Today, we learned that Peter was covered under the Medically Needy program, which is a temporary month to month form of assistance, while at All Children’s Hospital. 

“It is not surprising that recollections would be cloudy surrounding a time of great sorrow and difficulty. Now that the safety net that benefitted my family has been clearly identified, I trust that the debate can return to the important question of Medicaid expansion and its impact on the economic and personal freedom of Floridians.

“As I stated yesterday, I believe in the safety net. My family benefitted from the safety net. Children living in poverty today are offered coverage under Medicaid or Kidcare in Florida. Expanding Medicaid will not extend coverage to a single low-income child under 18 in Florida because they are already covered, just like Peter was.

Here's an overview of Florida's Medically Needy Program, provided by the Florida Department of Children and Families:

Medically Needy (Share of Cost)

Individuals who are not eligible for "full" Medicaid because their income or assets are over the Medicaid program limits may qualify for the Medically Needy program. Individuals enrolled in Medically Needy must have a certain amount of medical bills each month before Medicaid can be approved. This is referred to as a "share of cost" and varies depending on the household's size and income.

Once an individual meets the share of cost for the month, the individual must contact DCF to complete bill tracking and approve Medicaid for the remainder of the month. Information about this program can be found in the Medically Needy Brochure

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A possible expansion of Medicaid under the federal health law is in doubt. In just three days the House, Senate and Governor's office have sent mixed signals over whether the state will accept or reject billions in federal funding to increase access to a million low-income, uninsured Floridians under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the health law, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the additional costs in the first three years of the expansion, and 90 percent in the out years. In voicing his opposition to the move, House Speaker Will Weatherford told a personal story of how, when he was 15, his 13-month-old brother Peter was dying of cancer.

“I don’t know the specifics of what happened.  I know my brother had cancer, I know we were uninsured and I know we weren’t able to pay the bills," he said.

Weatherford said the family relied on safety net and charity services, like the Ronald McDonald House, where they stayed during trips to the Hospital. The Speaker neglected to say what other "safety net" services the family received.

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald contacted Weatherford’s father to ask more questions. And Bill Weatherford says the family applied for and received Medicaid to cover some $100,000 worth of bills.

That experience seems to run counter to Weatherford's opposition to expanding Medicaid, which has become a big issue during the state's 2013 legislative session.

Monday a House panel voted to draft language rejecting the funding. Representatives say they're concerned about additional costs to the state, and question whether Medicaid is the solution for providing people access to doctors. And Senate President Don Gaetz cast even more doubt on the possibility of an expansion when he said the House position could kill any future negotiations.

“It takes three yeses to get to 'yes’ and one “no” to get to ‘no’, and it sounds to me from what I heard today stated in the Florida House, that the House of Representatives and the Speaker are inclining toward no. And if that’s the case, then no one gets to bat, the lights get turned off and we all go home on that issue," Gaetz said.  

The Senate committee studying the issue has yet to come out with its stance on the expansion. But Committee Chairman Joe Negron has said the state can’t just say no without having a solution to serve Florida’s uninsured. Some lawmakers are now looking to Arkansas, which just got federal approval to give billions in federal Medicaid money to people who would qualify under the health law to buy private coverage on an exchange.

Meanwhile, in his State of the State Speech, Governor Rick Scott touched on his support of increasing access to Medicaid.