Along with House lawmakers in moderate districts, supporters of expanding Florida’s healthcare system are targeting Hispanic lawmakers.
Polls show that the healthcare law is popular among Hispanic voters. A January survey by the Florida Hospital Association found that 74 percent of Hispanics supported accepting federal funding, with 56 percent saying they felt strongly about the issue. A March poll by the business group Associated Industries of Florida found that 60 percent of Hispanics favored Medicaid expansion.
Speaking in both Spanish and English during a press conference last week, Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, said Democratic lawmakers are “fighting for the Hispanic community, for the families, for the children” by insisting that the House accept the federal aid.
Torres stood alongside three other Hispanic House members, but no Republicans.
It is a different story in the Senate, where Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has drafted a plan that accepts federal dollars and has bipartisan support. Republican Sens. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Anitere Flores of Miami voted in favor of the Senate proposal during last week ’s healthcare budget committee meeting.
The Legislature’s Hispanic caucus has met once this session, about a month ago. Torres said he brought up Medicaid expansion at the meeting, and urged the caucus to take a position.
“My concern at that time is we should lead the charge of the Medicaid expansion, Republicans as well as Democrats,” he said. “But they, at that time, felt that they were still waiting to see what was transpiring over here,” said Torres, motioning toward the Senate chambers.
Torres said he was not sure whether any Hispanic House Republican would break ranks. “I think it’s going to be, for them, a tough issue to side with us,” he said.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the Hialeah Republican who is being targeted in television ads, said he did not want the state to rely on federal funds.
“Three years down the line, we don’t want to be in the position where we come back in this chamber and we’re in a position where we have to take something away because now we don’t have the money and the federal government has pulled out on us,” he said.
One thing that could cause a shift among House Republicans is a change of heart by Weatherford himself.
He has criticized the federal government’s all-or-nothing approach to Medicaid expansion — which requires expanding healthcare coverage to childless adults in Florida for the first time — but he has also signaled that he would accept some federal money for a more-limited program. A compromise like that would require the approval of the federal government.
Will it happen?
Like the vote count, it’s hard to gauge.
“I think that Speaker Weatherford is so far out there, has taken many of the Republican members so far out to opposing taking any federal dollars, that this late in the game it’s going to be difficult for them to come back to the middle, if you will, and accept either all or some of the federal dollars that are available to the state of Florida,” Fasano said.
Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Katie Sanders and Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.