PolitiFact Florida

House Speaker Will Weatherford says 85 percent of people covered by Medicaid expansion are “single, childless” adults


Medicaid in Florida

The statement: Eighty-five percent of Floridians who will benefit from expanding Medicaid are “single, childless adults.”

— Will Weatherford in an interview on March 8

The ruling: Weatherford is off on his number and his characterization. Yet, the statement contains an element of truth in that Medicaid is expected to benefit childless adults more than any other population.

We rate this claim: Mostly False.

PolitiFact is a partnership between The Miami Herald and The Tampa Bay Times to check out truth in politics.

PolitiFact Florida

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford offered a compelling personal story to emphasize his support for a robust social safety net despite his stance against expanding Medicaid under the federal healthcare law.

Weatherford’s parents relied on a safety net program — he didn’t say which one in his speech on the opening day of the legislative session — to pay medical bills for his 20-month-old brother Peter, who died of cancer.

That program, Weatherford’s father told The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, was funded with Medicaid dollars. The news angered advocates of the expansion who said Weatherford wanted to deny other families relief that helped his own.

“I should have done a better job, and I take ownership of that, of having more facts before I gave my speech,” Weatherford said on March 8. “But it doesn’t change my belief, which is that what we’re talking about is 85 percent of the expansion are for single, childless adults. That’s what this Medicaid expansion goes to. Single, childless adults. It puts them on a government-run system that we potentially will have to pay for.”

Weatherford’s main complaint seems to be that these people are “able-bodied,” as he put it.

We wanted to give Weatherford’s statistic, so instrumental in his opposition to the expansion, the PolitiFact Florida treatment.

Weatherford was referring to internal figures determined by budget experts on his staff, said spokesman Ryan Duffy. But Duffy quickly acknowledged that Weatherford quoted the wrong numbers, which were derived from data supplied by the Legislature’s Social Services Estimating Conference on March 7.

The 85 percent figure Weatherford cited for “single, childless adults” was actually an estimate of all adults who would be covered if Medicaid expanded. (The House’s actual estimate is 82 percent.)

How many of that group would single and childless? We don’t know. The state didn’t estimate that.

The closest it came was estimating the impact on childless adults. Duffy said 62 percent of those who would receive Medicaid as part of the expansion would be childless adults. (That makes sense because childless adults currently cannot receive Medicaid under any circumstances in Florida. The expansion would change that.)

We wondered what other experts know about the percentage of childless adults — again we can’t measure childless and single — who could get Medicaid coverage under an expansion.

The state’s chief economist, Amy Baker, told us there are many ways of analyzing who could be covered by the Medicaid expansion.

Her group, the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research, identified a pool of 1,079,337 potential Medicaid beneficiaries using public microdata from the American Community Survey. Of that pool, 87 percent were adults 19 and over. Childless adults comprise 67 percent of beneficiaries, Baker said. Non-disabled childless adults (excluding 19- and 20-year-olds) would amount to 61.8 percent.

The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, which supports the expansion, came up with its own breakdown of who would benefit from the expansion. By the center’s calculations, about 58 percent of the newly eligible would be childless adults.

We should note the center uses a larger pool of newly eligible enrollees than Baker’s group, about 1.3 million people. The center offers a deeper dive into that population: About 22 percent are childless adults who do not have jobs. About 25 percent represent childless workers. The other 10 percent is composed of young adults age 19 to 25 and the disabled. (There was no way to extract the disabled from the center’s calculations.)

“This is not the number of newly eligible adults that we think would actually enroll in Medicaid,” said Greg Mellowe, FCEFP director of health research and analysis. “In fact, not all of those who appear to be eligible based on income will even qualify due to other factors such as immigration status.”

So what about our ruling? We know Weatherford’s assertion that 85 percent of the expansion’s beneficiaries would be childless adults is wrong. (He later corrected the number in an op-ed piece for the Tampa Bay Times.)

The number should have been, by the House’s calculation, 62 percent. Weatherford, however, erred additionally by referring to only “single” adults. No one measures that.

Weatherford is off on his number and his characterization.

Yet, the statement contains an element of truth in that Medicaid is expected to benefit childless adults more than any other population.

We rate his claim Mostly False.

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