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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Business group inches toward supporting Medicaid expansion



Without using the phrase “Medicaid expansion” or “Affordable Care Act,” a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida hinted that the business group has warmed to the idea of accepting federal funds to reduce the number of uninsured people in the state.

Slater Bayliss said AIF and its members have been studying the impact of the law, both as employers and as taxpayers. He said uncompensated care -- when uninsured people seek treatment at hospitals and the costs are passed on to people who have insurance -- is a $1.2 billion “hidden tax” on Florida businesses.

“What we see is that we’re already paying, the business community, is already paying for the uninsured, in the most costly setting possible, in the emergency rooms,” Bayliss said. “... We encourage you to best leverage available federal funding to ensure that we provide coverage to Floridians in a manner that protects the state’s financial health.”

Picking up on the hints in Bayliss' comments, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, asked him to make it plain. “What you’re saying is Associated Industries wants us to go ahead and expand Medicaid, isn’t that correct?”

Bayliss, wouldn’t say “yes” or “no.” Instead, he stuck to his talking points, saying that the business group hadn’t heard of any other viable options. “I think unfortunately a limited federally funded augmentation is really the only proposal that we’ve seen to this point,” he said.

It its annual list of legislative priorities, AIF avoided taking a position on Medicaid expansion but did say that if lawmakers rejected the money Florida would essentially be giving it away to other states.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce also has not taken a position on Medicaid expansion. When Gov. Rick Scott said he supported a three-year trial run, vice president of government affairs David Christian released a statement that was noncommittal.

“As Florida begins evaluating different proposals to the expansion of Medicaid, the discussion should focus on the economic benefits and the future costs to Florida. Will expanding Medicaid make Florida more competitive?" Christian's statement read.

The Chamber’s board meets Friday, and Medicaid expansion is on the agenda, a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability is out with a new poll that says politicians that support Medicaid expansion could face problems during election season.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called a press conference at Tampa General Hospital to urge Florida legislators to approve the Medicaid expansion. She noted the unprecedented level of federal money that would be used for the expansion. "This  is the best deal going in health care today," she said this morning.

As a safety net hospital, Tampa General faces what Castor called "daunting challenges" paying for the care of uninsured patients. In 2011, TGH paid
$41 million in charity care. "The Medicaid expansion will help remedy that," said Castor, standing with nurses and executives, including new
chief executive officer Jim Burkhart.

Safety net hospitals aren't the only ones that bear the cost of uncompensated care. Castor pointed out that insured patients pick up those
costs, too, through higher premiums and copays.

[Last modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 12:06pm]


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