Monday, February 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: In Florida, the scheme rises to the top

Maybe you are one of those 1 million low-income Floridians who are uninsured and were just informed by the Florida Legislature that if you get sick in this state, buster, you're pretty much on your own.

And that's why House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Simon Legree, stuck to his guns in rejecting $51 billion in federal Medicaid funding over the next 10 years, which would have covered those medical moochers.

After all, there are more important things state government should be doing with taxpayer resources — like allowing utility companies to gouge customers for nuclear power plants that don't work and/or will never be built.

Besides, those million or so economically disadvantaged clearly have no clue how Tallahassee functions and are simply too lazy to get off their duffs and go about the business of making government work in their favor.

Did these people honestly think all they had to do was sit around being poor, looking like a penny waiting for change, and somehow Weatherford and the rest of Florida government would conclude they ought to do something to help downtrodden citizens maybe get an aspirin now and then?

This is America, for crying out loud. You have to work to get what you want. You have to be willing to go that extra mile, take that extra step, write that extra check.

Take Heritage Property and Casualty Co., for example. Just 10 months ago the firm didn't even exist and had no track record in selling insurance besides a company president with a history of fines and violations from state regulators. But this week Citizens Property Insurance Corp. voted to give Heritage up to $52 million to take up to 60,000 Citizens policies.

Talk about the scheme rising to the top.

Some nitpickers say this deal stinks to high heaven. Some naysayers kvetch that this is a classic example of insider bigwigs gaming the system. Some holier-than-thou types will look at the $140,000 in political contributions Heritage ponied up to Gov. Rick Scott and the state Republican Party as a damning indictment of the insidious influence of money on policymaking.

All of that is true. But you can't deny the Heritage deal is also a classic case of how fast government can work when it really wants to and the money is right.

Consider that the ink was barely dry on Heritage's stationery when the Citizens board of toadies agreed to fork over up to $52 million to the Heritage Property and Casualty and Barber School to take some 60,000 Citizens policies off its hands.

In fact, the board received the proposal to air-kiss $52 million into the lap of Heritage Property and Casualty and Finger-Lickin' Good Barbecue less than a week before it voted to approve the deal.

Well, that's not exactly right. Only five of the eight-member Citizens board actually voted on the Heritage party gift. And the final tally was 3-2 in favor. Or put another way, Heritage received the $52 million corporate welfare blessing with less than half the votes of the total Citizens board.

Now you might think sliding $52 million in policyholders' money into the pockets of Heritage Property and Casualty and Air Duct Cleaning, a company in business for less than the gestation period of a whale, might require at least the entire Citizens board to show up for a full vote.

And if you think that, you obviously are unfit to serve in public office in Florida. Which brings us back to Medicaid.

The million or so Floridians who found themselves stiffed by Tallahassee have only themselves to blame. Unlike the Heritage Property and Casualty and Lawn Care Co., the poor have no juice in the corridors of power — a shortcoming easily corrected.

All Florida's less advantaged need to do is come up with a few dollars a piece, hire some silk-stocking lobbyists and start sending six-figure checks to Rick Scott and the state GOP.

Before you know it, Florida's poor will have Medicaid cards guaranteeing them concierge service at the Mayo Clinic. Why, the state might even throw in a free Heritage Property and Casualty and Italian Ice premium as a gesture of goodwill.

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