TAMPA — Civic groups and business leaders continued their push for state Medicaid expansion, saying Tuesday that legislators are hurting Florida with their decision to refuse $51 billion in federal money that would extend coverage to the poorest adults.
"It's our money. We want that money back," said Jim Burkhart, president and chief executive officer of Tampa General Hospital. "As time ticks, that money is going to someone else."
Burkhart spoke at a news conference Tuesday organized by the League of Women Voters, which is putting on similar events around the state to drum up support for expanding the number of people who qualify for Medicaid, one of the key components of the federal health care law.
Though the law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision to expand Medicaid coverage was left up to the states. Florida House Republicans killed the plan during the last legislative session, but the federal government has said Florida could still reverse course.
Bob Rohrlack, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that a number of business owners are opposed to Obama's health care law. But he said at the news conference that getting more uninsured Floridians health insurance would strengthen the stability of the hospitals and also require the creation of new health care jobs.
"If you like it or not, it's the law," he said, adding that the chamber has discussed its support with the Tampa Bay delegation, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican who led the charge against Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Rick Scott supported Medicaid expansion, though last week his administration barred county health departments from allowing outreach workers known as "navigators" onto their property to help uninsured people sign up for subsidized health coverage. State health officials cited security concerns.
Hospitals may have to help pick up some of that slack. Burkhart said Tampa General will allow navigators into its facility and may even set them up in an office that patients could visit. "It's in our best interest, and the patients' best interest, to get them coverage," he said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.