Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that he will sue the federal government for allegedly coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.
“It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare,” Scott said in a statement.
The legal maneuver, which comes amid a tense standoff between the House and Senate over Medicaid expansion, was simultaneously lauded and lambasted. It also complicates negotiations over this year’s budget.
The agency targeted by the lawsuit — the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS — is still deciding whether to renew a $2.2 billion program called the Low Income Pool that helps Florida hospitals treat low-income patients. And if no LIP dollars are awarded, Florida could be looking at a $1.3 billion budget gap.
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“From where I sit, it is difficult to understand how suing CMS on day 45 of a 60-day session regarding an issue the state has been aware of for the last 12 months will yield a timely resolution to the critical healthcare challenges facing our state,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
The suit, which has yet to be filed, is only the latest round in an ongoing feud between Scott and CMS in connection with the LIP.
The program is scheduled to expire in June under an agreement between Florida and the federal government. Federal health officials have said that they are open to negotiating a successor program, but no deal has been reached.
The negotiations took a turn Tuesday, when CMS told Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration that any decision regarding LIP would be tied to whether the state accepts federal Medicaid expansion money — a politically charged policy option Scott once supported, but now opposes.
Scott blasted CMS Thursday, saying that linking the two issues violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling “that the president cannot force Medicaid expansion on states.”
“Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for Obamacare, it also threatens poor families’ access to the safety net healthcare services they need,” Scott said.
He called the actions “outrageous and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.”
CMS declined to comment on the planned lawsuit. But spokesperson Ben Wakana said that Florida, as are other states, “is free to implement Medicaid expansion or not.”
Wakana pointed out that the LIP program had “long been scheduled to expire on June 30.”
“Florida is requesting an additional optional extension, which raises a different question: whether it promotes the objectives of the Medicaid statute to use demonstration authority when the state has statutory options that would better serve the low-income population,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that he hadn’t seen the details of the lawsuit, but that expanding Medicaid would ensure that 800,000 Floridians get access to healthcare coverage.
“So there’s not a good reason why anybody in Florida would be in a situation of trying to block a policy that would benefit 800,000 Floridians,” he said.
In Tallahassee, Scott’s announcement Thursday exposed the deepening divide between the House, which opposes expansion, and the Senate, which supports expansion and has proposed a plan to extend the LIP program.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said that Scott was making an important point: “You can’t force the state to take on Medicaid expansion.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he wasn’t sure whether the move was political posturing, or whether Scott has the standing to bring the lawsuit.
“But if they think the federal government has stepped out of bounds, they’ve got an obligation to defend the state of Florida,” he said.
Scott has repeatedly tangled with the federal courts when defending his policies or challenging the federal government.
Last year, Scott’s Agency for Health Care Administration filed suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, accusing the agency of providing substandard care to veterans after AHCA inspectors were denied access to federal VA hospitals.
The governor also asked the U.S. Supreme Court last year to hear his appeal of a federal court ruling that he issued an unconstitutional executive order in 2011 that allowed drug testing of state workers. The nation’s high court declined to hear the case.
Scott last year dropped the state’s appeal of a federal court order that deemed Florida had illegally begun a statewide “purge” of suspected non-citizens from the voter rolls less than 90 days before an election, which is not allowed by federal law.
The latest threat of legal action drew a collective groan among Democrats, who called the case “ridiculous.”
“It’s more of the same from the governor,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach. “It’s a corporate reaction: We sue people. The sad thing is it is going to cost the taxpayers.”
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said Scott was “not playing it straight.”
“The state of Florida has known for a year that LIP funding is expiring, and this hypocritical stunt by Gov. Scott will do nothing to serve our neighbors, Florida hospitals or Florida businesses,” she said.
McClatchy White House correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this story.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.
Gov. Rick Scott’s statement on planned lawsuit against federal government
Governor Rick Scott to Take Legal Action Against Obama for Stopping Federal Funds to Force State Further Into Obamacare
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Today, Governor Rick Scott announced that he will take legal action against President Obama’s federal healthcare agency for stopping Low Income Pool (LIP) healthcare funds to Florida in order to force the state to take Legislative action to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Governor Rick Scott said, “It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare. The President’s healthcare agency sent us a letter this week saying ‘the future of LIP’ and ‘Medicaid expansion are linked.’ But, the Supreme Court has already ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that the President cannot force Medicaid expansion on states. In fact, the Court ruled that the President could not use ‘gun to the head’ approaches in pushing for Medicaid expansion.
“Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for Obamacare, it also threatens poor families’ access to the safety net healthcare services they need. The population in Florida served under the LIP program is different from the population that would be covered under any Medicaid expansion, as is well documented in a recent Urban Institute report that said Florida would still have $1.6 billion in uncompensated care costs with or without an expansion of Medicaid.
“We will fight to protect the healthcare of Floridians, and their right to be free from federal overreach. Our citizens already pay federal taxes that go into the federal LIP program. Now, President Obama has decided that the state must take on a larger Medicaid program, forcing our taxpayers to pay even more to government, before they get their own federal tax dollars back. This is outrageous, and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.
“Our democracy is designed so that state governments can make the decision to not take on federal programs that will ultimately cost state taxpayers billions of dollars. We will not pass this cost on to our citizens in Florida and we will continue to fight for the federal LIP dollars our citizens already pay for with their federal taxes.”