In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Lawmakers would be negligent in declining federal help

It’s this simple: The Florida Legislature cannot afford to decline federal dollars for healthcare.

A state with an estimated 3.3 million uninsured — even in a post-Affordable Care Act world — can’t continue to play political games and forgo $51.3 billion in federal funds.

The partisan match with the U.S. president doesn’t pay nor serve citizens in any imaginable way — and even fiscal ideologue Gov. Rick Scott has changed his view on accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid and better serve the underprivileged.

Although Scott’s support remains tepid — not a word about this during his State of the State speech Tuesday — the Tea Party governor facing re-election now wants the money. Even he recognizes that this issue is not about party affiliation but about access for everyone to a certain level of healthcare.

Who remains the stalwart fool who can turn down a $51.3 billion bounty rolled out over 10 years?

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from well-heeled Wesley Chapel who has vowed to fight to the finish any effort to bring up the issue again in the legislative session that began Tuesday. He’s not even amenable to the latest proposal, a Republican-friendly one that places the money in the hands of private health care insurers and providers.

That’s why Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican from Hialeah, deserves double the kudos for his persistence and political courage in filing SB710, legislation that would bring that money to Florida. So does newcomer Rep. Amanda Murphy, a Democrat from New Port Richey, who has filed a complimentary House bill to bring home the Medicaid dollars the legislature unwisely declined last year.

The lawmakers want to channel the funds through Healthy Florida, a state program that helps people buy private insurance coverage, and build on the success of Florida Healthy Kids, which helps parents who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid yet not enough to buy expensive insurance get coverage.

“The people we’re trying to help are the working poor, the hard-working blue collar,” Garcia told me.

Garcia’s efforts are all the more valuable to South Florida now that large area hospitals like Jackson Memorial stand to lose $218 million in cuts when a new funding law takes effect in July. The South Florida Hospital & Health Care Association has strongly endorsed Garcia’s bill, saying the tri-county area stands to benefit the most because of the size of the uninsured population. The Miami-Dade legislative delegation should stand behind him as well.

Weatherford’s opposition to federally subsidized healthcare is, at best, hypocritical.

According to his father, the family accepted more than $100,000 in Medicaid dollars to pay the bills of Weatherford’s cancer-stricken 13-month-old brother, who died in 1995. Weatherford has said he was too young to remember how the finances were handled, yet he remembers enough to cast doubt on his father’s recollection, and avoid judgment on his position. But he’s catering to the point of view of wealthy supporters and the powerful father-in-law who put him in office, Tallahassee royalty.

It would be negligence of the worst kind for the legislature to continue to decline money that would bring some relief to a state in dire need of healthcare funding.

It’s not about where the dollars come from, but about all the good they could do here.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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