Gov. Rick Scott said the magic word.
On Feb. 20, when Scott announced his support for a three-year expansion of Medicaid that infuriated conservatives, he said: "I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care."
Conscience is a powerful word, one that politicians should never drop casually. It speaks to a deep moral conviction, something that can't be compromised — as opposed to a product of polls, situational politics or the next election.
So the question becomes this: If Medicaid expansion is a matter of conscience to Florida's governor, shouldn't he be doing everything humanly possible to make it the law in this state?
Scott lately has traveled the state and ceremonially distributed recognition money to local school districts (on Monday, he was in Sunrise). Not exactly a matter of great importance.
In last week's highly publicized State of the State speech, Scott did not mention Medicaid until the 30th minute of a 37-minute address, relegating it to oh-by-the-way status.
And when reporters pressed Scott on how hard he would lobby legislators to make sure it happens, he said: "My plan is to do what's right, both for taxpayers and for the uninsured."
Scott makes it clear that he has two priorities in the 2013 legislative session, neither of which is health care. He wants to raise teachers' salaries by $2,500 and enact a sales-tax break for manufacturing equipment.
Scott could be showing up at hospital emergency rooms, draping a compassionate arm around an uninsured mom and getting Medicaid on the nightly news. (Last year, he did similar events to call public attention to the need to fight fraud in the no-fault car insurance system.)
Surely, finding a way to insure 1 million more Floridians is a slightly bigger deal than reducing staged car accidents to collect a $10,000 personal-injury insurance premium, right?
Scott also could take a ride down U.S. 19, into the heart of Florida, and hold a town hall meeting on the Nature Coast with, say, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness.
Dean represents a region suddenly forced to cope with the closing of a vital economic engine, the nuclear plant in Crystal River. The plant shutdown could mean even more people will lose their health insurance.
Dean, a former Citrus County sheriff and cattleman, is hardly anybody's idea of a champion of big federal entitlement programs. Like Scott, he supports Medicaid expansion and says Florida doesn't really have a choice.
"I, for one person in the state of Florida who's a representative of the people, do not want poor families to be denied," Dean said.
Just as it is impossible to be a little bit pregnant, it's also impossible to be a halfway supporter of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
Is Scott, hobbled by chronically low poll numbers, missing a golden opportunity to show people in Florida what his conscience is telling him?
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.