As a concerned citizen and North Florida voter, I attended the Capital City Republican Club Dec. 2 to hear Dr. Neal Dunn make his case for why Republicans ought to support him over his primary opponent, Tallahassee attorney Mary Thomas.
Both are running to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. Thomas has repeatedly claimed to be “the only candidate in this race who wants to fully repeal Obamacare.”
While researching the candidates and their respective platforms, my initial inclination was to dismiss this rhetoric as just so much of the usual primary campaign season hyperbole. After all, how could any self-respecting Republican hope to win a primary in North Florida with such an albatross as Obamacare on his political back? Surely, I said to myself, Thomas was misrepresenting the good Dr. Dunn’s position on the matter.
But then I read in several respected media outlets, including Politico, that Dunn, while on the Board of Governors of the Florida Medical Association (FMA), had joined a unanimous vote by that organization’s House of Delegates in July 2014 to endorse Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Florida.
As a former journalist, I appreciate the need to get information directly from the horse’s mouth, so I joined fellow Republicans for the luncheon Dec. 2, hoping for the opportunity to get Dr. Dunn to lay out his position on the record. During the Q&A session, I publicly questioned him on his support for Obamacare Medicaid expansion, and he responded that the FMA had only voted to accept $2 billion from the federal government for Medicaid, and only if acceptance of those funds was not conditioned on the state having to set up its own health exchanges.
But I knew something was amiss with this response. Every half-literate politico knows that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion entails not merely the expansion of state expenditures for Medicaid, but an expansion of the pool of eligible patients. Under current law, only low-income pregnant women, children, needy families, the blind, the elderly, and the disabled are eligible for Medicaid. Under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, anyone with income below 138 percent of the poverty level -- hundreds of thousands of new patients -- would be added to the taxpayer rolls. The conservative Heritage Foundation says this would cost taxpayers more than $4 billion over nine years.
When I asked Dr. Dunn, by way of follow-up, why he would vote to expand this welfare burden on Florida taxpayers, he told me I was wrong when I said Medicaid expansion would add new welfare dependents to the system, and that “the [Medicaid] money was not attached to the patients.” (Don’t take my word for it, you can hear his words for yourself here. Note: I did not make this recording.)
But the FMA’s own Resolution 14-406, which Dr. Dunn voted to support, says that the FMA “will publicly support increased access to health care through insurance coverage available through expanded Medicaid coverage in Florida and/or subsidized health insurance for those under 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.”
I don’t know whether Neal Dunn lied to me at that luncheon, or whether he was genuinely ignorant of the contents of the resolution he voted to support. Whichever is the case, I’m not so sure this is the sort of man we North Floridians want representing us in Congress.
Eric Giunta, Sunshine State News’ former chief legal correspondent, is an attorney based in Tallahassee. He can be reached at email@example.com.