Gov. Rick Scott made a big deal out of his recent meeting with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to supposedly discuss the impact of the Affordable Care Act on our state’s Medicaid budget.
Instead of a meaningful discussion, the meeting appears to have only been a backdrop for the governor to attack the Obama administration, play to Scott’s conservative base and possibly help his 2014 reelection bid.
Scott told the media after the meeting that his Agency for Health Care Administration had estimated the Medicaid expansion would cost Florida over $26 billion.
Not so fast, Tricky Ricky.
Health News Florida has obtained and published a series of emails to the governor’s staff that show analysts, including State Economist Amy Baker, had warned the governor that ACHA’s Medicaid estimates, which had tripled since August, were wrong. Staff at both the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research had pointed out the faulty assumptions.
There were better estimates available. The nonpartisan Urban Institute had conducted a study for Kaiser Family Foundation of the costs for states to expand Medicaid to cover the uninsured. For Florida, the estimated 10-year cost was around $1 billion. According to the report, when state expenditures of Medicaid costs were netted against the savings in previously uncompensated care, the incremental impact was only 3.4 percent.
Still Gov. Scott persisted and used the faulty estimates to further his political agenda.
After The Miami Herald and PolitiFact began to question the governor’s $26 billion price tag, his handlers doubled down and defended the number that only he and ACHA believe is valid. However, they left some room for adjusting the figure.
“AHCA’s report concluded that adding people to Medicaid under the new law would cost Florida $26 billion over 10 years,” said his communications director, Melissa Sellers. “Others have asked AHCA to use different assumptions to calculate different cost estimates. We look forward to reviewing those cost estimates as well.”
Florida lawmakers need the best estimates possible to make intelligent decisions about the state’s budget. The governor and his agencies have an obligation to do that. Blowing up the projection to such an exaggerated level does much more harm than good.
However, it may be Gov. Scott’s ticket to re-election, or, at least, he seems to think so.
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola’s Independent News.