Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

Romano: Florida Medicaid expansion fight up again, hopefully with different result

The speech sounds almost quaint today, like the misguided views of some forgotten era.

He was standing before a kindred crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference last spring when Will Weatherford explained his rationale for rejecting a plan to expand Medicaid for those unable to afford health care.

The federal plan was inflexible, Florida's House speaker said.

(And yet federal officials implied they would approve state Sen. Joe Negron's alternate plan to accept federal dollars to buy private insurance for the state's poorest residents.)

Florida would come up with its own solution, Weatherford suggested.

(And yet the House came up with no responsible solution, even though Gov. Rick Scott, the Senate and a majority of residents were solidly in favor of Negron's plan.)

States should take a stand against Medicaid expansion, he argued.

(And yet half of the states have already begun accepting federal Medicaid funds, and more are expected to join the parade in the coming weeks.)

Otherwise, Weatherford nailed it.

I bring this up today because the debate is hopefully starting anew. Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, filed a Medicaid expansion bill last week that is similar to Negron's plan. And Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, announced Monday she will file complementary legislation in the House.

"Unfortunately, we're going to have to start this conversation all over again,'' Murphy said. "But, hopefully, this will be the beginning of a new dialogue. And if someone has a better plan, I'd love to hear from them.''

Murphy replaced Mike Fasano, who was the only House Republican who voted in favor of Medicaid expansion last year. She said this issue was eclipsed only by flood insurance concerns when she held a town meeting on Saturday night.

"Honestly, I was shocked that so many people wanted to talk about it,'' Murphy said. "There was not one negative comment about Medicaid the entire night.''

Why is it a popular topic?

Could it be because Florida trails only Texas in the number of uninsured residents?

Could it be because the state's Agency for Health Care Administration suggested expanding Medicaid would not only provide better access to health care but it would actually save money because it would eliminate costly safety net programs?

Could it be because a recent study by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. indicated that Florida businesses could face $250 million in annual tax penalties for workers who should be covered under Medicaid, but instead will need federal subsidies to get insurance.

Or could it even be as simple as saving lives and protecting families from financial ruin in the face of catastrophic health bills?

Yes, the debate is coming again, and you have to hope that the 75 or so Republicans in the House have a better argument than "we don't trust the federal government.''

It's nice that Weatherford has his principles. It's fine that he has his convictions.

But it would be so much better if he actually had answers.

It would be better for the uninsured. Better for business owners facing fines. And better for residents who are seeing a huge share of their federal taxes disappear into the wide unknown.

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