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Rick Scott: Three Years of Obamacare Isn't a 'White Flag of Surrender'

February 19, 2013 - 6:00pm

Gov. Rick Scott, who came into office with his fervent opposition to the federal health-care law as a large part of his street cred, may now have to square off against many of his allies as he has called for Florida to embrace, at least for three years, the expansion of the Medicaid portion of the Affordable Care Act.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, quickly declared that the Legislature will make the ultimate decision on expanding Medicaid in a release fired off before Scott made his proposal known to the media on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the conservative Americans for Prosperity-Florida blasted Scotts position on the law -- known to many as Obamacare -- as a disappointing flip-flop.

Appearing at the governors mansion, Scott told reporters he will ask legislators to approve a bill that expands Medicaid for three years, as long as the program remains 100 percent funded by the federal government. At the end of three years, when the federal program is to require a 10 percent state match, legislators would have to deem if the program should be renewed.

We will spend the next three years measuring how the expansion impacts health care cost, quality and access, Scott said. We will evaluate whether services are best provided through the Medicaid program, if the program needs more flexibility, or if some services are better provided by the private sector.

Scotts announcement came hours after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave an agreement in principle to the second of Floridas two requested Medicaid waivers that would give the Sunshine State more flexibility in operating the service for the poor in Florida.

Scott said no deal was made in which he would agree to expand Medicaid if the waiver was granted, nor should it be considered a white flag of surrender to government-run heath care.

He said factors in the decision were last years U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Floridas efforts to block the law, the general election vote, and his own mothers recent death.

My Mom was a proud, strong woman who wanted to make it on her own without help, Scott said. But how would she have felt if she knew she was denied help that she had already paid for?

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, noted he awaits the anticipated March 4 vote from the Senate Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Members of the Select Committee on Monday reaffirmed that no exchange would be set up this year, but left the option open, leaving other states to test the minefield first.

Weatherford was more direct, asserting the Florida Legislature will make the ultimate decision.

I am personally skeptical that this inflexible law will improve the quality of health care in our state and ensure our long-term financial stability, Weatherford stated in a release.

Weatherford added that he expected his own select committee on the health care law to make recommendations based on principle and rooted in facts.

Florida Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Government Affairs David Christian applauded Scott and the Legislature for the victory in obtaining the federal Medicaid waiver, but was more guarded on expanding the health care program

As Florida begins evaluating different proposals to the expansion of Medicaid, the discussion should focus on the economic benefits and the future costs to Florida, Christian said.

Will expanding Medicaid make Florida more competitive? The Florida Chamber looks forward to assisting the Legislature in answering that fundamental question.

Associated Industries of Florida President Tom Feeney said that regardless of where any individual stood on the Affordable Health Care Act on Election Day, his business advocacy group will also pursue a deliberative approach to ensure that Florida's businesses do not continue to be saddled with the enormous tax bill of the uninsured that hampers economic growth and job creation.

Scott's new mindset was greeted more favorably as a step in the right direction by the House Democrats.

I would prefer that the governor embrace the Affordable Care Act without constraints, such as his newly proposed automatic three-year sunset of expanded Medicaid coverage, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, stated in a release.

Regardless, his comments today are a step forward that I urge Republican legislative leaders to meet with action. I am confident that this important and necessary expansion of Floridas Medicaid program will improve the quality of health care in our state and can be achieved in an affordable manner.

The states largest health care union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, called Scotts decision a substantial step in the right direction.

But for those who first followed Scott, a former health care executive, as he founded Conservatives for Patients' Rights in opposition to the Obama administrations health care law, the move is seen cynically as a step -- along with proposals to give pay raises to teachers and for a larger state budget --focused on re-election.

Governor Scott had been a national leader in the fight against President Obamas health care takeover, AFP-Florida Director Slade OBrien stated in a release.

He was elected because of his principled conservative leadership against Obamacares overreach, and led the charge, with Attorney General Pam Bondi, to take Obamacare to the Supreme Court. But today he came out in support of the Medicaid expansion he vowed to oppose.

At every level of government, it is too easy for politicians to spend other peoples money. For far too long, states have fallen for the promises of free federal money ignoring the insidious federal strings and the long-term effects on state budgets. Floridas Medicaid program already costs the taxpayers more than $20 billion a year, and the financial burden will only grow if a million new people are added to the program. Hopefully our legislative leaders will not follow in Governor Scotts footsteps and will reject expansion of this broken system.

Scott said he ran on a campaign to get the state back to work and his job is to work for all Floridians.

Jobs have come back, Scott said. Because we made the tough choices at the beginning, weve been able to make the smart choices now, put more money into education.

Asked what he would do if the Legislature fails to include a three-year approval on Medicaid, Scott would only say I believe the House and Senate will do this, its a common-sense solution, its good for those who dont have health care now and its good for taxpayers, because its something we can work to.

Associated Industries of Florida President Tom Feeney said that regardless of where any individual stood on the Affordable Health Care Act on Election Day, his business advocacy group will also pursue a deliberative approach to ensure that Florida's businesses do not continue to be saddled with the enormous tax bill of the uninsured that hampers economic growth and job creation.


Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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