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Published Apr. 29, 2013

Not long ago, I was invited to be a judge in a middle school debate.

Some of the kids were nervous, some got sidetracked and some clammed up. Yet for all their jitters, giggles, anxiety and backtracking, the entire morning felt true.

No matter how they looked while presenting their case, they had done their research and came across with absolute sincerity while making their arguments.

In other words, they looked nothing like your legislators in the Florida House of Representatives.

This week's debate on the expansion of Medicaid funds was stunning for its obfuscation, bombast and sheer nonsense.

By sticking to their pretend war with the federal government, House Republicans are shamelessly snubbing minimum wage-type workers as well as endangering the financial well-being of state hospitals.

Who's on board with House Republicans?

Not the Republican governor. He wants to expand Medicaid. Not Republican senators. They're considering a plan that would incorporate federal money. Not hospital administrators. Not the Chamber of Commerce. Not independent studies done by both the University of Florida and Georgetown University. Not the most recent polls.

(Fun fact: Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, voted against accepting federal funds on Thursday. Did you know residents in Hooper's district voted in support of Obamacare in a constitutional amendment last fall?)

This means House Republicans would have you believe they know something everyone else has yet to figure out. So what were their main arguments this week?

Medicaid is a flawed system.

Okay, I'll buy that. But it has nothing to do with this argument. First of all, the Senate plan wouldn't expand Medicaid. It would use federal money to buy private insurance.

And even if it was expanding Medicaid, the logic still falls short. For someone with high blood pressure or diabetes or a raging fever, a flawed plan is still better than no plan.

(Fun fact: Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, voted against accepting federal funds on Thursday. Did you know residents in Ahern's district voted in support of Obamacare last fall?)

The federal government can't afford expansion.

Another argument that sounds good, but completely ignores reality. The federal government is already paying for uninsured residents through expensive emergency room treatment at safety net hospitals. The Georgetown study says we will actually save money in the long run by putting people on insurance plans with preventive care.

And if the Georgetown study is wrong, and the state is suddenly on the hook for additional funds, the Senate plan has an opt-out clause after three years. This means the plan has tremendous upside with zero risk if it falls short.

(Fun fact: Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, and Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, voted against accepting federal funds on Thursday. Did you know a majority of residents in both of their districts voted to re-elect Barack Obama, whose signature accomplishment is the Affordable Care Act?)

Too many Floridians are looking for handouts.

In a lot of cases this is true. There have always been, and always will be, a small number of people who try to take advantage of the system.

But it's offensive to assume everyone in need of health care is a deadbeat with no ambition. In a state dependent on the service industry, there are a ton of honest, hard working people in restaurants, hotels and at tourist attractions who cannot afford insurance or health care. A recent study by Florida International University says nearly 25 percent of Floridians are living near or below the poverty level.

And that's part of the beauty in accepting $52 billion in federal funds over the next decade. That money can potentially alleviate some of the unemployment and poverty issues in the state. The UF study suggested the influx of federal money could mean an additional 122,000 permanent jobs in Florida.

None of this even gets into the pitfalls of refusing the money. The safety net funds that will be cut off for hospitals, and businesses with low-wage workers that will now have to provide insurance or face fines from the federal government.

You didn't hear much about these arguments on the House floor on Thursday because it's much easier to toss out ominous-sounding warnings and nonsensical sound bites.

(Fun fact: House Republicans from moderate districts are going to have some explaining to do in November 2014.)