TAMPA — The nation's top housing official on Friday urged Florida political leaders to "stop playing politics" and take federal money to expand Medicaid coverage to more people.
"Here in Florida, we need the governor and the Legislature to step up," Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said at an event at the Encore Tampa redevelopment project. Also there was U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Donovan and other leaders in the Obama administration are fanning out to critical states like Florida to try to promote the Affordable Care Act. The president's signature law has come under heavy fire for the bumpy rollout of the online insurance exchange and the cancellations of millions of individual policies that don't comply with the law.
Making more poor people eligible for Medicaid coverage was a key part of the law. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the law left the decision to expand the program up to the states. Florida's House Republicans stopped expansion dead in its tracks last session.
That decision left nearly 800,000 poor Floridians with no options for health care. They still can't get Medicaid, and they are too poor to qualify for subsidies to buy private insurance on the federal exchange.
"I want those legislators to look those people in the eye and say, 'You don't need health care,' " Donovan said. "That's not the right answer. They need health care."
Donovan said it's not unusual for a housing official to talk about health care. A key reason many people default on their mortgages, for instance, is medical debt. And Encore will eventually include a health care clinic.
"Health care is an important part of any revitalization we do," he said.