The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

On Medicaid, GOP politics trumps common sense

Surely the people of Florida had a right to expect that during the 60 days of the annual legislative session lawmakers would find a way to accept the federal government’s offer of $51 billion over the next decade to expand Medicaid.

And yet House Republicans, led by Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, failed to reach a workable compromise with their counterparts in the Republican-led Senate, effectively killing any deal for now and leaving Florida’s uninsured in jeopardy.

This is a huge loss for the people of Florida, the triumph of toxic politics over common sense.

Gov. Rick Scott’s role in all this has been disappointing. Once an outspoken opponent of “Obamacare,” he saw that the feds’ Medicaid offer was too good to pass up, but he failed to do the work necessary to get support in the House.

Mr. Scott can still show leadership by calling a special session and making the case for Medicaid expansion. He has the financial numbers on his side — and overwhelming support in the Senate.

By a lopsided 38-1 vote, the Senate had adopted a unique plan that met federal guidelines and still adhered to free-market principles by giving qualified residents an opportunity to buy private insurance.

But that wasn’t good enough for Mr. Weatherford, who called federal Medicaid expansion a “social experiment” doomed to fail.

The weak substitute his chamber offered provided private coverage to only 115,000 or so Floridians, using state funds totaling $2.3 billion over the next decade. By comparison, the Senate-approved plan would reach roughly 1 million Floridians. In addition, Washington would chip in to cover the $430 million cost of the state’s Medically Needy Program.

That should have made it a slam-dunk, but Mr. Weatherford and his followers were dead set against any deal that smacked of accepting the provisions of federal healthcare reform or appearing to agree with President Obama and his Affordable Care Act.

Yet they never made a persuasive case for rejection. The matching costs of $3.5 billion for the state in future years would be offset by the savings in the Medically Needy program, making the financial case for accepting Medicaid expansion even more self-evident.

The biggest losers are the state’s 3.8 million uninsured who don’t qualify for Medicare. But there are others, as well, like Florida employers with 50 or more workers who don’t offer health insurance. They will now face tax penalties they might have otherwise avoided.

That’s one reason that business interests like Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce were in favor. They also believed that it would create thousands of new jobs as more workers are needed to treat the newly insured.

Public hospitals are also big losers. More uninsured people means more indigents seeking emergency treatment at places like Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

The ultimate losers are Florida’s taxpayers, who will pick up all the costs and will not get the benefit of a national healthcare program. Rarely have the people of Florida been so ill-served by the men and women they send to Tallahassee to make decisions on life-and-death matters.

As the polls show, Gov. Scott has the support of most Floridians on Medicaid expansion. They know a good deal when they see it and they know that too many people in Florida lack health insurance. The House’s inaction must not stand.

To borrow Gov. Scott’s campaign slogan: Get to work, legislators!

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