The state is going to take its time deciding just how to react to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that imposes health care as a tax on all citizens.
But Florida officials who were at the heart of the challenge to the law wasted little time criticizing the court for upholding what they view as the White House's imposition on individual freedoms.
Attorney General Pam Bondi blamed the Obama administration for a lack of “political accountability” in disguising the mandates in the Affordable Care Act as not being a $4 billion tax.
And she added that voters can undo that hike -- upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday -- in November.
“The president and the supporters of the law were apparently not straight with the American people,” Bondi said from the steps of the Old Capitol following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to uphold the mandates in President Obama’s health care law.
In the 193-page ruling the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that the mandates are a valid exercise of Congress’s power to tax, in this case by “increasing taxes” on those who choose to go uninsured.
Expecting the ruling to be overturned, the state has rejected federal money tied with the Act. Now officials will have to decide if the state will continue to opt out of the Medicaid provisions in the law. The court did rule Florida can do so without being penalized with a lose of federal dollars.
Also, the state has been countering the federal requirements by working to set up a "marketplace" for people to search for health insurance and an on-line Medicaid eligibility program to help state agencies handle the expansion of Medicaid patients that will come with Obamacare.
Gov. Rick Scott said the state will need time to digest the ruling. But he also said the Democrats who claimed in 2010 when voting for the law that the mandates were not a tax, should now vote to repeal the law as it will become a burden for individuals and businesses.
“I think the right thing to do, because it is a tax, that everybody who said it wasn’t a tax they need to repeal it,” said Scott, who headed a group opposed to the Affordable Care Act prior to starting his run for governor in 2010.
“We’re making it so difficult, so difficult, for Americans to survive with all these taxes,” Scott added.
“If you look at every government program in the world, they overpromise, they run out of money, they underpay providers, and that rations care.”
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has estimated the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act could increase the state’s tab $1.1 billion in 2017.
The court decision was seen as an enormous victory for the White House heading into the presidential election, but Bondi said the campaign will give voters a chance to reject the law.
“The final judgment on the wisdom of this law rests with the American people,” Bondi said. “The American people have a say in November and I’m confident they will join with me to reject a law that is harmful to individual liberty, the economy and to the welfare of our people.”
Pointing out that the centerpiece of the law, the mandates, has become unpopular with Americans, and that some Democrats have criticized the White House for doing a bad job selling the law to the public, Republican leaders have said the decision will galvanize their forces much like the 2010 tea party movement.
Republicans in the U.S. House are expected to vote next month to overturn the 2010 law, but any effort to roll back the mandates is expected to face a massive hurdle without a supermajority in the Senate and GOP occupant in the White House.
Florida was at the front of the 26-state legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the federal government has no right to mandate people to purchase health insurance.
The state did score a massive victory in that "seven justices agreed with our position that Congress could not force the states to make the unacceptable choice between losing all our Medicaid benefits or accepting a massive, unaffordable expansion of the Medicaid program,” Bondi noted.
Bondi said it will be up to the governor and Legislature to respond.
Scott, who has previously declared that the Act is not the law of the land, says he needs to read through the decision before making any decisions on how Florida should respond.
In November, Florida voters will get to actually vote on a state constitutional amendment that would prevent penalties for not purchasing health-care coverage in order to comply with federal health-care mandates.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, a 2014 gubernatorial candidate, called the ruling a “great victory not only for Floridians who already have private insurance, but for the almost 4 million Floridians who have none -- many because they never had it, or lost it when they lost their jobs."
She urged Scott, Bondi and the Republican leadership in the Legislature to respect the court ruling.
“The Affordable Health Care Act was never about denying liberty or choice. It is all about liberty and choice. It is all about improving the quality of every American’s life, every Floridian’s life, and to make those improvements affordable and within reach,” Rich stated in a release.
“Unfortunately, the conservative Republican leadership in Tallahassee and Washington has fought this reform every step of the way. Since he first took office, the governor has returned $4.5 million and refused to pursue more than $106 million in federal money to implement the health-care law. This isn’t his money to ignore or reject. This is Floridians’ money -- every dollar was sent to Washington by Florida’s taxpayers and should be returned for their health-care benefits.
“Whether the governor likes it or not, the Affordable Health Care Act is the law of the land, and he and the Republican legislative leadership are obliged to follow it.”
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.