ORLANDO — Florida Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders may have toned down their criticism of the federal health care law since President Barack Obama was re-elected, but not Attorney General Pam Bondi.
She blasted the president's signature legislation during a video broadcast Wednesday at a conference hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
"We all know this law would never have gotten through Congress if it had been sold as a new $4 billion tax on the American people," Bondi said. "In this case, the Constitution's limits on government power did not fail. Political accountability failed because the president and supporters of this law apparently were not straight with the American people."
Bondi's video address preceded a panel discussion on Florida's response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act during the chamber's annual insurance summit. The insurance executive, the hospital system chief and the businessman on the panel all steered clear of political rhetoric and instead focused on the decisions awaiting Florida leaders.
As the state's chief attorney, Bondi was among the most visible figures in Florida's challenge to the individual mandate provision that the Supreme Court ultimately upheld. She also campaigned across the nation for Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.
During her video address, she painted a grim picture of how the law will affect Americans.
"Unfortunately, national studies are already showing the negative effects that the health care law is having on businesses and our economy," Bondi said Wednesday. "Businesses across the country are raising their prices in order to compensate for their added costs due to Obama's health care plan. If they aren't raising prices, they're cutting jobs as a result of the added cost, both of which hurt our economy."
Scott ran for office because of his disdain for the Affordable Care Act and until recently had insisted that Florida would not expand Medicaid or implement a health exchange. But even he softened his tone after the election, in which Democrats also retained control of the U.S. Senate and virtually eliminated the chance of substantial changes to the law.
Earlier this month, Scott asked for a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to talk about the requirements for setting up a health exchange.
Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have each appointed special committees to evaluate the health care law and come up with recommendations for its implementation. The Senate committee meets Monday.
A trio of business leaders had a more measured analysis during a panel discussion after Bondi's address. Jon Urbanek, senior vice president of Florida Blue, said there is a lot of uncertainty about the law and more details are needed. But the Affordable Care Act is here to stay and the state should get working, he said.
"I think what we need to do is really come to the right decisions on things, understand how best to execute this and really put it together the right way," he said.
State leaders must decide whether to expand Medicaid to reduce the number of uninsured citizens. Although the federal government will pick up the vast majority of costs in the initial years, Scott and others have said the long-term costs are unaffordable.
The panel members said the state should move forward with setting up its own exchange, as opposed to allowing the federal government to set up one in Florida. That could mean creating a new one from scratch or perhaps altering an existing program, such as Florida Health Choices or Florida Healthy Kids.
Mark Wilson, the Florida chamber's president and chief executive officer, said there is panic and fear among business leaders who are uncertain about the law's impacts. Florida should take its time and not rush to be among the first states to make decisions, he said.
"I think this is a scenario where time is our friend," Wilson said.
Tim Goldfard, the chief executive officer of Shands HealthCare, said the state will be hard-pressed to pass up billions of dollars in funding that it would receive to expand the Medicaid rolls. Right now, private citizens are already shouldering the costs when uninsured patients are treated at hospitals, he said, adding, "Make no mistake, you're paying one way or another on this."
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