Gov. Rick Scott has two weeks to demonstrate he can govern as well as he can issue press releases. It's great that the governor supports expanding Medicaid and accepting billions of federal dollars to provide health coverage to nearly a million residents. Now he has to persuade fellow conservative Republicans in the Legislature to agree or embrace a reasonable alternative. This is a defining moment for this state, and Scott should use all of the persuasive tools of his office to lead lawmakers to the right conclusion.
It seems Scott wants to have it both ways. He publicly expresses support for Medicaid expansion while passively watching House Speaker Will Weatherford and his allies kill any viable proposal. The governor has had no meaningful talks with the House leadership on this issue, and he is only in slightly better contact with Senate Republicans. That won't get the job done, and it is time to become fully engaged rather than appealing to moderate voters while winking to conservative lawmakers in Tallahassee.
Political persuasion does not come naturally to this governor, who had to learn that running the state is indeed different than running a business where what the CEO says goes. But this issue should play to the strengths of a lawyer who ran the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain and fought the Affordable Care Act until there was no reason left to fight. There are powerful arguments, and Scott should make them more forcefully to legislators in public and in private.
First, accepting more than $50 billion from the federal government to expand health care makes economic sense for the state. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for three years and never pay less than 90 percent. Florida can even save enough money to roughly cover its matching costs because of the current health care expenses Washington would pick up.
Accepting the federal money also makes economic sense for private employers and the health care industry. Expanding health care to more Floridians will create jobs, increase productivity and lessen the threat of federal penalties to businesses that don't offer health insurance. There is a reason the expansion is supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries and health care organizations. The governor who is focused on job creation and improving the economy ought to be able to make that case and enlist business leaders to help him. Someone needs to counter the scare tactics.
As Scott has noted, it would be unconscionable to pass up an opportunity to provide health care coverage to nearly 1 million uninsured Floridians. If the Legislature won't expand Medicaid, it should embrace Republican Sen. Joe Negron's proposal to use the Medicaid money to subsidize the cost of private insurance for those residents. That is a conservative approach, but the miserly House Republicans so far won't even do that much.
This will be a hard sell. House Republicans such as Reps. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, and Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, are out of step with the majority of Floridians who support the Medicaid expansion. Their attacks on Medicaid, the federal government and poor people are ideologically driven and not grounded in facts.
Now is the time for the governor to lead. He can argue the facts. He can make clear the political consequences of ignoring his wishes. He can pledge to call the Legislature into special session if it fails to act in the last two weeks of the regular session.
Floridians will support a governor who persuades the Legislature to see the light. They will respect one who makes his best effort but falls short. They will reject one who says one thing and does another.