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SCOTUS ruling on healthcare law a mixed bag for Florida Medicaid recipients


Florida officials say they’re disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul law, including requirements that most people purchase health insurance or pay a fine. Florida led 26 other states in trying to get the measure overturned.

 Governor Rick Scott called the high court’s decision to uphold the so-called individual mandate  a blow to the economy and a decision that doesn't address the cost of healthcare.

 “On top of that, as bad as it is for patients, Its going to be just as bad for taxpayers. We’re not going to be able to afford this" Scott told reporters after the ruling was announced.

But as it wasn’t a total loss for the state. In addition to leading the fight against the so-called individual mandate, Florida officials argued states were being unfairly coerced into expanding Medicaid, the state and federal partnership that provides health insurance to the poor. Under federal law, states would have had to expand their Medicaid rolls or risk losing all their federal funding. But the justices said states can opt out and keep their federal support.

 “We will have a choice on Medicaid, which is good. And that has to be a state-by-state choice," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. She said the ruling on Medicaid means Florida now has options on how to move forward.

There are more than three million Floridians on Medicaid, and under the federal affordable care act, another million more will become eligible in the next few years. The federal government would cover about 90-percent of the additional cost, with state’s chipping in the remainder. But the high court’s ruling means the state doesn’t have to cover those additional people if it doesn’t want to.  

 “However, the federal government guarantees 100-percent of funding for the extension into the year 2016. In 10 years it comes out to be an extra $20 billion in the state of Florida," said Dr. Paolo Annino, a law professor at Florida State University. Annino says he believes the lure of billions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding will eventually lead states like Florida to come around. But if they don't Annino says Medicaid recipients will still be protected from the law's penalties.

“There’s a variety of exceptions. And one of the exceptions is, if the cost is more than eight-percent of their income, they are exempt from the individual mandate," he said.

Those newly-eligible Medicaid recipients might also qualify for federal subsidies to purchase private insurance plans. But the decision on what to do will ultimately come down to Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature, and Governor Rick Scott, who has been a staunch opponent of the law. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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