The wheeling and dealing between the two chambers of the Florida Legislature has come to a virtual stand-off over the chasm on healthcare funding.
“We’re simply not speaking to each other right now,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami and head of the Miami-Dade delegation, told the Editorial Board Tuesday in Tallahassee. That silence is an irresponsible waste of time as the clock ticks down on the second half of the session.
The debate over expanding Medicaid had another unfortunate Alice-through-the-looking-glass moment this week as Gov. Rick Scott turned his off-again-on-again support for the federally funded initiative off again. This governor is leading in circles on this issue, getting the state nowhere close to providing access to healthcare for almost 1 million Floridians.
And once the federal government cuts funding to the Low Income Pool, or LIP, which helps hospitals that treat poor patients, South Florida taxpayers shouldn’t have to help foot the bill — $200 million in Miami-Dade and $180 million in Broward.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and he is speaking up. He’s warning taxpayers that a world of financial pain is coming their way. “We need to stress the impact that the end of LIP will have on our community,” Mr. Garcia told the Board. “I don’t think taxpayers are getting that message.”
And neither are Mr. Scott or lawmakers in the House. To its credit, the state Senate has included $2 billion for healthcare in its budget; the House refuses to even address the issue of Medicaid expansion in its budget. A $4-billion difference separates the Senate and House versions, which must be reconciled for the overall budget to be approved.
Are lawmakers headed to a special session? The impasse is so deep, Ms. Flores thinks so. “We’re not going to get our budgets resolved in time.”
Members of the Republican-majority House have an ideological opposition to accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid. At least they’ve been consistent — consistently wrong. Gov. Scott has been all over the map. He refused to consider accepting $51 billion in federal funds to broaden the program’s umbrella. He then broke with party members in 2013 to support the initiative, but did absolutely nothing to help push it through the Legislature. On Monday, he balked again.
Meantime, Florida’s taxpayers continue to pay for the most expensive treatment — emergency-room care — for the poor and uninsured; their hard-earned taxes are providing care for residents in other states, with more clear-eyed leadership; and federal LIP funds are OK, but federal funds for Medicaid expansion are not, the “reasoning” seems to go.
The League of Women Voters called the governor’s about-face “a sucker punch for all Floridians.” League President Deirdre Macnab said: “This issue affects everyone. If the working poor are left without coverage, hospitals will have to shift the loss of treating the uninsured to the insured.”
That fact ought to get everyone’s attention, but no one is negotiating. Not the House and the Senate. Not the state, whose talks with the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services over LIP are stalled.
Both chambers and the governor are playing a reckless game of chess with each other. But it’s a dangerous game — and guess who will be the biggest loser.