To score political points against President Barack Obama's health care reforms, Florida's Republican legislative leaders have rejected millions of federal dollars to help the frail elderly stay in their homes. It is unconscionable and suggests Tallahassee's leadership is ready to trade commonsense and decent treatment of Florida's elders for purely partisan gain.
The five-year, $35.7 million grant left on the table by the state Legislative Budget Committee last month means Florida won't participate in a compassionate federal program launched in 2005 under Republican President George W. Bush. It pays for seniors and the disabled to be cared for at home or at an assisted living facility rather than be consigned to a nursing home.
Obviously, this is how people wish to live out their years, if possible, and it's a huge savings to taxpayers. The median cost to Medicaid for a person in a nursing home is $76,777 a year, compared with $31,950 at an assisted living facility and about $40,000 for home health care.
But the joint, 14-member budget committee, which meets to consider fiscal issues between legislative sessions, voted 8-6 to reject the funds, hewing to the policy dictates of Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon to bar the implementation of any part of the federal health reform law. Other states, such as Wisconsin and Indiana, are part of the Florida lawsuit challenging Obama's health care reform but have accepted the Money Follows the Person funds to benefit their citizens. Not Florida, which is having its real needs ignored in deference to rigid partisanship.
Committee member Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, contended Florida already has sufficient programs to keep people out of nursing homes. But the state's nursing home diversion program, which serves 19,000 Floridians, has a waiting list of over 11,000 people, according to the Department of Elder Affairs. And two of the Senate's staunchest fiscal conservatives, Sens. J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales and Joe Negron of Stuart, broke ranks to join with the committee's four Democrats in voting to accept the money.
It's not the first time the hostility of Scott and legislative leaders toward federal health reform has led them to shortchange Floridians. Scott returned a $1 million federal grant that would have underwritten a system to allow consumers to monitor insurance rates. The Legislature turned away seven federal grants this year associated with federal health care reform worth more than $17 million, including $2 million for children's hospice care and $8 million for construction of community health centers.
Floridians should be appalled at the choices being made by the state's leaders. They would rather play political games than help the state's grandparents stay in their homes and communities. There is no justification for this cynical calculation.