TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he supports expanding Medicaid and funneling billions of federal dollars to Florida, a significant policy reversal that could bring health care coverage to 1 million additional Floridians.
“While the federal government is committed to pay 100 percent of the cost, I cannot, in good conscience, deny Floridians the needed access to health care,” Scott said at a hastily called news conference at the Governor’s Mansion.
Scott, a former hospital executive, spoke with unusual directness about helping the “poorest and weakest” Floridians — a stunning about-face for a small-government Republican who was one of the loudest voices in an aggressive, and ultimately unsuccessful, legal strategy to kill a law he derided as “Obamacare.”
Throughout his 2010 campaign for governor, as Scott sought support from tea party members, he called the law a “job-killer” that would hurt Florida.
On Wednesday, he called the proposed Medicaid expansion, at least for an initial period, “common sense.”
Tea party activists bitterly criticized Scott’s declaration.
“This is just another example of Republicans lying to Floridians,” said Everett Wilkinson of Palm Beach Gardens, calling Scott “the Benedict Arnold to the patriot and tea party movement in Florida.”
Scott was careful to point out that the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature will ultimately decide whether or not his proposal is worth implementing. That is far from certain, particularly in the more partisan House.
“Gov. Scott has made his decision and I certainly respect his thoughts,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “However, 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.”
“I respect the governor for staking out a clear position,” added Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who chairs a Senate committee studying the health care law. He said senators would reach their own conclusions likely in early March.
In Miami, Carlos A. Migoya, Jackson’s president and chief executive officer, applauded Scott’s announcement. “Anything that provides coverage for our currently uninsured residents certainly advances our community and Jackson Health System’s mission,” he said. “The impact on Jackson’s budget, however, will be based on how the details are written and how the funding is allocated."
Scott said he would support an initial three-year expansion of Medicaid but made clear he would not twist legislators’ arms to make it happen. He reiterated that his top priorities are a $2,500 pay raise for teachers and a sales tax break for manufacturers’ equipment purchases.
Under the governor’s proposal, the Legislature — after three years — would have to vote to reauthorize the program to keep it going.
“It is not a white flag of surrender to government-run health care,” he said, as if anticipating a political backlash from his most conservative supporters.
Part of his self-described “new perspective” came from the death of his mother Esther last year, he said.