TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott refused Wednesday to say whether he still supports expanding Medicaid eligibility to more uninsured and poor Floridians, an issue Democrats are certain to stress during his re-election campaign next year.
Appearing at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute on Wednesday, Scott for the second time this week publicly dodged questions about his position on expanding Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Though Scott surprised many observers by endorsing expansion earlier this year, he also was criticized for failing to press House Republicans to accept the plan.
On Wednesday, Scott responded to a question about Medicaid expansion by talking about people whose private insurance plans were canceled due to new coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act.
"Everybody is worried about the politics of the law," he said. "Here's my concern: It's going to impact the cost of health care, the quality of health care and access to health care. Have a great day."
He turned away as a reporter asked about the 800,000 Floridians who are too poor to qualify for subsidized insurance under the federal law, yet can't qualify for Medicaid.
Florida's Medicaid program is one of the stingiest in the nation, covering mostly children, pregnant women and the disabled. The Affordable Care Act calls for covering all low-income Americans through Medicaid, but the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option to decline.
Florida Republican legislative leaders have said they would rather turn down $51 billion in federal funds over 10 years because they so firmly oppose expanding what they see as a flawed entitlement program.
On Wednesday, the liberal advocacy group Progress Florida circulated a video from another news conference this week in which Scott would not say whether his past support of Medicaid expansion continues. "Florida voters, and especially uninsured families, have a right to know if Scott is backpedaling or has flip-flopped on his support for expanding Medicaid," the group said in a statement.
Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who's running for his old job as a Democrat, has also criticized Scott's handling of Medicaid.
Scott appeared Wednesday at Moffitt for an event his office organized to highlight the $50 million in state funding for cancer research approved during last spring's legislative session, though that funding already has been publicized. Moffitt received $10.4 million of the allocation.
Last week, Scott appeared at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg to talk about funding for medical education, also approved months ago.
Scott had no new information to report Wednesday about cancer funding, saying only he wants it to continue. "We've got to continue investing in the right things," he told reporters.
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Also on hand were Moffitt executives, including chief executive officer Dr. Alan List, and University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft.
The governor stood in front of about 60 Moffitt researchers in white coats. Behind them hung posters describing Moffitt research projects. However, they were financed by the National Institutes of Health, a federal agency, not the state.
Three hours after Scott's news conference at Moffitt, a spokeswoman from his office called the Times to say that Scott made his stance clear when he endorsed Medicaid expansion last spring.
But, like her boss, spokeswoman Jackie Schutz would not give a yes or no answer to the Medicaid question. "There's no new update," was all she would say.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.