Editorial: Thanks go to Americans for Prosperity

The Americans for Prosperity ad does voters a service, reminding them which inhabitants of the Florida Capitol voted to deny medical care to thousands of people in Tampa Bay. SCOTT KEELER   |   TIMES
The Americans for Prosperity ad does voters a service, reminding them which inhabitants of the Florida Capitol voted to deny medical care to thousands of people in Tampa Bay.SCOTT KEELER | TIMES
Published August 24 2015
Updated December 15 2015

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy organization fueled by the billionaire Koch brothers, is performing a valuable public service for Tampa Bay voters. It is running a new TV and digital ad featuring the names and faces of Republican legislators from Tampa Bay who blocked the state from accepting billions in federal Medicaid expansion money to subsidize health coverage for low-income Floridians. That's very helpful, because voters should be reminded over and over exactly who voted to deny medical care to tens of thousands of Tampa Bay residents.

One version of the ad shows the names and faces of House Republicans Dana Young of Tampa, Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, Chris Latvala of Clearwater, Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor, Larry Ahern of Seminole, and James Grant of Tampa. We can only hope there are other ads that feature Republican Reps. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena, Danny Burgess Jr. of San Antonio, Jake Raburn of Lithia, Dan Raulerson of Plant City, Ross Spano of Dover and Jimmie T. Smith of Inverness. Americans for Prosperity has unlimited resources, and it would be a shame to leave out any local lawmakers who performed such a disservice to their constituents and their communities.

Of course, that's not spin from Americans for Prosperity. The tea-party flavored group is thanking House Republicans for rejecting the Medicaid expansion money. The ad also plays fast and loose with the truth. It says by rejecting Medicaid expansion, House Republicans saved Floridians more than $1 billion and "protected access to health care for our neediest residents'' as they "promoted free-market health care reforms.''

In fact, these Republican lawmakers cost the state billions. The $1 billion savings is attributed to a chart in the New York Times in 2012 that listed a five-year state cost for Medicaid expansion (in return for $20 billion in federal money, which the ad neglects to mention). The 2015 reality is that Florida would have saved more than $1 billion in state money over five years, according the Legislature's own economist, because other health care programs could have been reduced or eliminated if the state had accepted the Medicaid expansion money.

In fact, the protection of access to health care for the poorest Floridians cost state taxpayers more than $400 million that could have been spent on public education or other issues. That is how much money the state added to the Low Income Pool, an account that uses local, state and federal money to help hospitals cover the cost of charity care. The federal government reduced the size of the pool by more than half because it would prefer to use federal money to subsidize health coverage rather than pay for charity treatment in expensive emergency rooms. In effect, House Republicans chose to spend hundreds of millions in state tax money to avoid accepting billions in federal tax money.

In fact, the "free-market health care reforms" the ad credits House Republicans with promoting are essentially the same as telling poor Floridians they are on their own when it comes to buying health care. The bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan approved by the Senate was market-based, because it would have empowered low-income Floridians to use subsidies to purchase private insurance on the federal exchange or elsewhere.

But let's not quibble over the facts and the sad reality that more than 800,000 poor Floridians were denied access to health coverage by these House Republicans. Let's give Americans for Prosperity credit for running the ads that remind Tampa Bay voters that their representatives rejected Medicaid expansion. Let's hope it keeps airing the ads and creates more versions with the names and faces of all of the smiling lawmakers who denied their constituents access to health care. This is really a great public service, and voters need to memorize those names and faces by the November 2016 election.