TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott said late Friday that Florida will not begin implementing the federal health care law because he believes it is bad policy and too costly for Floridians.
Scott told Fox News that he believes the law should be repealed, hopefully by a new president elected in November. But even if that doesn't happen, he said, Florida will not set up a health exchange or participate in an expansion of the Medicaid program.
"We're not going to implement Obamacare in Florida," Scott told Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren on Friday night. "We're not going to expand Medicaid because we're going to do the right thing. We're not going to do the exchange."
Scott's announcement came just hours after he told media that he was still considering his options in the wake of Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
State Rep. Mark Pafford, the ranking Democrat on the House committee that handles health care funding, said he was not surprised by the governor's stance.
"This is a guy who was in the private sector. He created an organization to fight the Affordable Care Act," said Pafford, of West Palm Beach. "He then was so upset that he became governor using his own money. So it wouldn't make sense that he would do anything else."
Under the health care law, by 2014, states must implement a health insurance exchange, or a Web-based marketplace where people can shop for insurance, or defer to a federal program. States need to submit plans to the federal government by Nov. 16 that demonstrate their readiness to launch health exchanges.
States also must decide whether to move forward with an expansion of Medicaid to reduce the number of uninsured residents. In Florida, about 3.8 million people, or 21 percent, are uninsured.
The Supreme Court ruling made it clear that states can stick with the status quo without being financially penalized.
However, the federal government has promised to shoulder nearly all of the burden of the Medicaid expansion in the early years so it will cost states relatively little to participate. But Scott said Medicaid is already too expensive and the expansion would put further strain on the state budget.
"We care about having a health care safety net for the vulnerable Floridians," Scott said on Fox. "But this is an expansion that just doesn't make any sense."
Many aspects of the Affordable Care Act are already in effect and do not require state involvement. That includes popular provisions like prescription drug discounts for seniors, allowing young adults to remain on parents' insurance plans, and free preventive care.
Scott's spokesman said Saturday that if there are other aspects of the law that Florida is obligated to do, the state will comply. But the governor's hope is that Republican Mitt Romney defeats President Barack Obama and makes good on his promise to roll back the health care reforms.
"Hopefully we won't have to worry about it because by November we're going to have a new president-elect who is going to repeal it," Scott press secretary Lane Wright said.
The White House was asked for comment Saturday but declined.
Scott said other Republican governors agreed their focus should be fighting the law and supporting Romney, including Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
"Here in Louisiana, look, we refused to set up the exchange. We're not going to start implementing Obamacare," Jindal told POLITICO. "We have not applied for the grants, we have not accepted many of these dollars, we are not implementing the exchanges, we don't think it makes any sense to implement Obamacare in Louisiana."
Scott said the governors arrived at the same conclusion that expanding Medicaid and creating exchanges are not good for taxpayers.
"We care about the citizens of our state," he said. "We know this will be bad for our health care. We want jobs in our state. This is going to put American businesses at an unbelievable disadvantage as compared to businesses around the world."
Scott cited the law's requirement for businesses to offer insurance to employees. He told Van Susteren a story about a Florida business owner who said he may have to shut his doors.
"They walked up to me and they said, 'Governor, is this really going to become the law? Because if it does, we're out of business,' " Scott said. " 'We have 20 employees; we know we won't be able to buy any health care for anybody.' "
But that's not true. The law says companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from any requirement to buy insurance, and they're also exempt from any fines associated with not buying insurance.
One of Scott's biggest concerns is the cost of adding an estimated 1 million people to the Medicaid rolls.
"We can't pay for that; there is no way Floridians can pay for that," he said.
Democratic Rep. Pafford believes resisting the health care law is the wrong thing to do. Republican lawmakers should be embracing provisions that expand access to health care, he said, and new revenue streams like a tax on Internet commerce could help pay for it.
"We can afford it," he said. "There are plenty of ways to do that. They just don't want to afford it."
Because the Legislature sets the budget, it will ultimately decide whether to allocate money to implement provisions of the health care law.
Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz said he and incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford will work with the governor's office in reaching a final decision. But for now, they are waiting on staff to digest what the court ruling means and its impact, Gaetz said.
"It's not a matter of not having made up my mind yet, it's a matter that this 110-page opinion, which is nearly as complex as the law itself, is not 48 hours old yet," said Gaetz, R-Niceville. "I believe in 'ready, aim, fire,' not 'ready, fire, aim.' "
Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said there isn't an immediate need to move forward on implementing the law. There is no harm in waiting a few months to see if the outcome of the November election changes the political climate, he said.
"There is an opportunity to bring new leadership to the United States of America," he said, "and if that happens, it's going to change everything."
Times staff writers Angie Drobnic Holan and Alex Leary contributed to this report. Tia Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.