Rick Scott has a problem. He has 840,000 working poor in the state that don’t have health insurance. But heck, if they’re really sick they can go to the emergency room. For the past nine years the state has taken billions in federal funds to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated or charity care.
Apparently Gov. Scott is comfortable with that arrangement. But he has known for two years that these Low Income Pool funds, better known as LIP, were going away.
There is a better solution.
Federal funding is available for Medicaid expansion that would enable Florida to offer health insurance to nearly a million uninsured. It would cover 100 percent of the costs initially and would provide preventative and primary care to those newly eligible.
But Scott doesn’t want to expand Medicaid. Well, to be accurate — he didn’t, then he said he did, and now he doesn’t again. It’s also fair to say that he has not shown any interest in insuring those individuals, period.
In office for five years, Scott has not made insuring the working poor an issue in any of his state of the state addresses. He hasn’t recommended funding for them in any of his proposed budgets. And he has not worked with legislators to develop a plan, despite the Florida Senate moving forward to develop one without him during the brief time he professed to be for Medicaid expansion.
Scott’s problem really isn’t that the 840,000 don’t have insurance; it’s that he wants to keep it that way even though the money is available to insure them. Yikes, he can’t really admit that, can he?
Scott also has the challenge of explaining changing positions twice on Medicaid expansion. No worries — he’ll just claim he’s been consistent. Forget the truth — he changed positions because it suited his political purposes at the time.
But how does Scott deal with the pesky fact that he’s known for two years the LIP money was going away and did nothing?
Never fear, Scott is a master of turning a political problem into a personal opportunity. Time to deflect. The strategy is to shift the blame, vilify the feds and appeal to the political base. His official line — you can’t trust the federal government, the feds walked away and now they’re coercing us.
Scott will repeat the official line until enough people believe it. He has the money, the resources and the bully pulpit. What he is sorely lacking is the trust of the voters.
But not to be deterred, Scott orchestrated a few good photo ops and carefully scripted events to lend credence to his fictional account.
After five years of inaction on healthcare expansion, the last few weeks have been remarkably action-packed and bizarre.
First, Scott sued the federal government for tying LIP funding to Medicaid expansion. He enlisted the governors of Texas and Kansas to show support.
Then Scott went to Washington to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, whom he just sued, and quickly reported that her non-answer to his demand for LIP funding was tantamount to a “No” and substantiated his lawsuit.
That might be hard to swallow since he had only filed the LIP application two weeks earlier.
Next Scott filed an injunction to order the federal government to keep its dollars flowing to Florida. Odd — an injunction to force the government to keep funding a program that ended.
Scott returned to Washington a week later for meetings with members of Congress, urging them to help him fight the bully President Obama. He found a willing ally in Michigan Republican Fred Upton, who plans to use his House Energy and Commerce Committee to take testimony into whether federal officials are attempting to force the state to expand Medicaid coverage.
I’m not sure if that is devious, insidious or desperate. Maybe a little of each.
To really confuse the issue, Scott created a commission to examine hospital finances, claiming hospitals seeking LIP funds are too profitable. He suggested the hospitals should share their profits. Huh? He is suing the feds to get funding for hospitals that are too profitable? And he thinks socializing their profits is good policy?
I can’t help but feel that Scott is crafting a script manipulating the facts to back up his fictional narrative. The script is conniving, conflicting, and convoluted.
What’s the desired outcome? Is it winning the lawsuit? Weakening Obamacare? Exacting retribution on hospitals? Appearing on Fox News? Or is it a U.S. Senate seat in 2018? Maybe it’s a little of each.
One thing’s for sure: Scott is expending a lot of energy, and tax dollars, to callously prevent his own citizens from getting affordable healthcare.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.