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Florida Lawmakers say the Affordable Care Act Needs Consideration

Florida has until 2014 to implement some of the provisions in the Federal Affordable Care Act. Governor Rick Scott says the state won’t do it, but  some Florida lawmakers say it’s too early to start jumping to conclusions.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld most of the Federal Affordable Care Act, also called the healthcare overhaul law. But it left a few pieces up to the states, and Florida Governor Rick Scott said  he’s not implementing anything he can avoid.

“It’s very disappointing what the Supreme Court did. This is going to be devastating for patients," Scott said.

Scott made the rounds on a number of national news stations this week saying the state won’t create insurance exchanges, which are meant to help citizens find health insurance coverage and compare prices. And he told Fox News, Florida won’t expand its Medicaid rolls to cover more uninsured Floridians, even though the federal government will cover most of the cost—with the state paying nothing for the first three years, and then slowly phasing up to cover  only about 10-percent. Scott said it costs too much much.

It’s not free. I mean its 1.9 billion dollars a year. You’re still paying it. I mean Florida taxpayers are paying Federal taxes. On top of that they’re only going to cover it for the first three years. Then Florida taxpayers will be on the hook," Scott said.

But some are raising questions about Scott’s message. First there’s the question of how much the Medicaid expansion would really cost the state. Scott said $1.9-billion, but that number includes state and federal spending and wraps up some non-Medicaid related costs. Senate President Designate Don Gaetz said The Florida Senate’s Health and Human Services Appropriation Committee staff is getting a number that’s closer to $3.8-billion. And the Agency for Healthcare Administration said the expansion would cost a around $1-billion. Other estimates put the number in the hundred millions. Gaetz said it’s not surprising there are so many different cost estimates. But he says no matter what, it comes at a significant cost to the state. 

“No matter what number you use, the consequence is irrefutable, and that is that it puts additional financial pressure on the people of Florida,” Gaetz said.

And some, like Representative Perry Thurston, the incoming leader of the Democratic caucus in the House, and a supporter of the federal law, said the decision about whether to implement really isn’t all up to the governor. Thurston said the governor can set the tone, but at the end of the day, lawmakers will make the decision.

“Quite frankly, its not all up to the governor. And to that extent we’re glad to see the leaders in the House, Representative Weatherford, at least, indicating that they’re going to actually take a look at the implementation aspect of the Medicaid expansion," Thurston said.

Thurston said he feels strongly that implementing all parts of the Affordable Care Act is the best move for the state. He said Florida will continue to have people who need healthcare and can’t pay for it themselves. So, he said why not take advantage of the assistance the state is offering?  He thinks it could save the state money.

“The need will be there. The state will continue to pick it up without this assistance. We’ll just continue to pick it up though emergency room care, which is vastly more expensive,” Thurston said.

Incoming Senate President Gaetz said he’s agreed with incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford to study the issue before settling on a decision about whether to implement optional portions of the law.

“Speaker Weatherford and I have our respective professional staffs and attorneys tweezering through the opinion to determine what Florida’s options and obligations are and all of that is not entirely clear yet, but my guess it that it will be. And we’ll join with the governor in adopting a policy for Florida going forward, but give us time to  read the opinion and understand it before we make a determination as to exactly what our options and obligations are," Gaetz said.

Gaetz said he’s not a fan of the act, and feels the best thing would be for the measure to be repealed. But he also said he wants to ensure that no matter what happens Florida is prepared.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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