Florida is stuck with a tea party governor who won't talk and a tea party House speaker who won't listen. Gov. Rick Scott refuses to repeat his earlier support for Medicaid expansion, and House Speaker Will Weatherford refuses to hear the economic and moral arguments for accepting billions of federal dollars to cover the poor. Congress is finally rejecting such ideological rigidness in embracing a budget compromise, and the Legislature should do the same on health care.
At least twice last week, Scott declined to publicly reaffirm his support for accepting billions from Washington to expand Medicaid. The Republican governor's embrace always sounded unenthusiastic, and it came hours after the Obama administration approved his request in February to convert the state's entire Medicaid program into a managed care system. Scott did not push the House to adopt a Senate plan to take the federal money, and he dropped the subject after the Legislature adjourned in May. Now he chokes on his own words of support as he gears up his re-election campaign.
While the governor dodges, Weatherford clings to his flawed arguments against expansion as if they will ring true if he repeats them often enough. The Wesley Chapel Republican complains that Medicaid is a flawed system, yet fails to mention he refused to let the House vote on a bill passed 38-1 by the Senate that would have used the Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance. He accuses the Obama administration of being inflexible, yet the administration has allowed Arkansas to spend the Medicaid money on private insurance. He contends the Medicaid expansion would be too expensive, yet Washington would pay the entire cost for three years, other federal money to treat the poor will be cut and the state could save millions it spends now on health programs. The real problem is that Weatherford believes adults are not entitled to access to affordable care and should just work harder to get better jobs that provide coverage. He's out of touch, and Floridians who need health care are out of time.
Because Scott and Weatherford are oblivious to reality, more than 800,000 Floridians too poor to receive federal subsidies to buy insurance on the federal marketplace can't qualify for Medicaid. Their pinched ideology ignores the pent-up demand for health coverage by the Floridians they were elected to represent. In October and November, more than 18,000 Floridians tried the federal marketplace and learned they are eligible for Medicaid under the existing program. More than 17,000 Floridians picked a private plan — more residents than in any other state using the federal marketplace. Imagine how many more residents would be covered if the federal marketplace worked as intended or Florida had created its own exchange.
BayCare Health System president and CEO Steve Mason told the Times' editorial board earlier this month there "is an ideological stake driven deeply into the ground" in Tallahassee on Medicaid expansion. When business leaders talk to legislators about the issue, he said, the lawmakers blame the failure to act on leadership (read Weatherford). Mason said BayCare is "not going to stop'' pushing for action. Neither should other business leaders or voters who need health coverage.
The U.S. House stood up to conservative groups last week, approving a modest bipartisan budget compromise. Why won't reasonable Democrats and Republicans in the Florida Legislature do the same and stand up for uninsured Floridians and fiscal responsibility?