Florida Starting to Accept Federal Health Care Law, to Miss Exchange Deadline
Around the State
Florida’s Republican leadership has slowly, reluctantly accepted that the Affordable Care Act is now the law of the land, but they say there are still too many unanswered questions regarding its implementation and costs.
The state will miss the Friday deadline to set up its own health care exchanges that are expected to provide the uninsured with the opportunity to sign up for coverage starting Jan. 1.
Missing the deadline, for the law commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” will default Florida into the federal exchange.
While Florida leads the fight against the Act and its individual tax mandates to the U.S. Supreme Court, House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told reporters on Tuesday that the long-term hope by state officials is that an exchange can be created that “maximizes choices for the consumer.”
“The problem is there are hundreds of unanswered questions that are out there with regard to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act; until we have the answers to those questions we don’t know which plan gives our consumers the best choices,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford added that the eventual cost to the state for the provision that will increase Medicaid fees for primary care physicians also remains unknown.
“They kind of winked and nodded about how long they’re going to pay for it, but we don’t know the true cost to the state,” Weatherford said. “For us to say we’re going to agree to something without knowing the actual fiscal impact to the state is a little premature.”
The federal government would fully fund the increased fees in 2013 and 2014, but starting in 2015 or 2016 Florida will have to pick up 10 percent of the costs.
The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida has estimated that the cost will come to $1.7 billion over the first decade, while the state's Legislative Budget Commission has estimated the tab starting at $188.6 million in the first year.
The alliance has also claimed that Florida’s reluctance to expand the federal coverage could result in a loss of $27.9 billion in federal funding for the same period.
While state officials have been tagged with not planning for the implementation of the Act as Florida led the fight against the law to the U.S. Supreme Court, Weatherford blamed the federal government for failing to address the issues such as Medicaid payments.
“Facts are important things to have to make a serious fiscal commitment on behalf of our state,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve waited around; I think we’ve been waiting around for the federal government to give us more explanations on what the rules to the game will be. Once we get those, we’ll make a decision.”
The act would require Medicaid payments to primary-care physicians, such as family doctors and pediatricians, to mirror higher payment levels in the Medicare program.
Weatherford’s comments echo the comments Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, gave the Miami Herald after the election.
“I don’t like this law,” Gaetz told the Herald, “but this is the law, and I believe I have a constitutional obligation to carry it out.”
Gov. Rick Scott, a former health care executive who has vociferously opposed the federal Act, has also offered comments that he is willing to look into the plan.
“We need to focus on how Obamacare affects each of our families,” Scott stated in a release from the governor’s office. “Will it increase the cost of health care for our families? Will it impact the quality of health care for our families?
“Will it impact Floridians’ access to our health care system? I am looking forward to working with legislators and others on specific ways to address these issues. On Obamacare, I am concerned about how it affects patients, jobs and taxes on Floridians. The problem we need to address is why health care costs so much for our families.”
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.