TALLAHASSEE -- Health insurance giant Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida gave more money to Florida campaigns than any other single entity in the 2012 election cycle — $4.8 million — and the company is already the largest contributor in the current cycle, a Herald/Times analysis has found.
Company officials say the contributions, which include $867,000 sent to Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature since January, are an investment in like-minded candidates as Blue Cross works towards implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But when it comes to the company’s top priority — the expansion of Medicaid to cover one million more uninsured Floridians — the health care giant’s out-sized investment has fallen flat.
Legislators walked away from extending Medicaid coverage to Florida residents at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level after House leaders fiercely resisted the option. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, doing business as Florida Blue, contracts with the state to run a Medicaid managed care program, which was expected to get $50 billion over 10 years through Medicaid expansion.
“With regard to Medicaid, we do have a difference of opinion with a lot of the folks we have supported in the past,’’ said Jason Altmire, vice president of public policy government and community affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. He said the company hopes to come back next session and renew the pitch for Medicaid expansion.
But Blue Cross and Blue Shield is not the only company to invest heavily in the political process, only to have its top legislative priority thwarted in the past year.
Hospitals, nursing homes, and the ill-fated Internet cafe industry, all made heavy investments in the governor and legislators this year but went home empty.
Meanwhile, other large donors, such as U.S. Sugar, the Florida Optometry Association and the Florida Medical Association saw their political investments pay off as lawmakers passed long-sought legislation to make it easier for them to do business in Florida.
A common denominator for most of those turned away: the Florida House, where most of the initiatives of the top contributors went to die.
“I didn’t keep track; I don’t know if we were responsible for killing those bills or not,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “If it goes against our principles — like Medicaid expansion — I don’t care how much they gave. It has to be right for Florida.”
By contrast, big contributors seemed to have an easier time moving their agenda through the Senate.
A bill by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to make it more difficult to sue nursing homes for neglect was a top priority of the nursing home industry, which gave more than $1 million in the last cycle. The bill passed every committee in the Senate, but was never heard in the House.
The Internet café industry started the session with high hopes after having donated more than $1.4 million to legislative coffers over the last two years. The House had passed legislation last year to outlaw their machines but the Senate resisted and was poised this year to pass legislation to keep them alive one more year and enact regulations next year.
Those plans were squelched when federal and state prosecutors arrested the owners and operators of Allied Veterans of Florida, a purported charity organization that authorities said secretly operated electronic slot machines across the state through Internet cafes.