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Striking a cooperative tone, Gov. Rick Scott asks to meet with federal health officials

Published Nov. 17, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Striking a cooperative post-election tone, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday asked to meet with President Barack Obama's top health care adviser so they can "work together" to lower health care costs.

In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on what had been the original deadline for states to decide whether to create health exchanges, Scott said he remains skeptical that the Affordable Care Act will lower costs. He also warned that the cost of most government health care programs often exceeds initial projections.

Scott cited many "unanswered questions" about cost and access under the federal law, and again asked for more flexibility in the spending of Medicaid money.

"If we can enact a reform agenda that will increase competition and choices and incentivize personal responsibility for families, we can achieve our goal of lowering costs and increasing access to and quality of care," Scott wrote.

The U.S. government extended the deadline for states to decide on health exchanges, or online marketplaces for people to shop competitively for insurance, to Dec. 14, and the soon-to-be-installed leaders of the Legislature say that no decision on an exchange can be made without their approval.

Scott's letter is the latest evidence of efforts to broaden his political appeal by trying to reach out to middle-class Floridians, many of whom voted to re-elect Obama, despite Scott's opposition to the president's policies.

The first paragraph of Scott's three-page letter to Sebelius used the word "families" five times.

Scott, who was elected with strong support of tea party members, has struggled with weak job approval ratings in his first two years as governor, especially among women.

"Gov. (Mitt) Romney did not win the election," Scott told reporters Friday. "So it is not an option to repeal Obamacare. My goal now is to focus on what's good for our citizens."

For much of the past year, Scott referred to "Obamacare" as a "job-killer" for Florida. His softened rhetoric comes less than two weeks after Obama won Florida for a second time and voters statewide rejected a largely symbolic amendment to the state Constitution that would have prohibited states from requiring people to buy health insurance.

"Here's the way I look at it: The election's over. No is not an answer. I'm responsible for the citizens of our state. I want to focus on what their needs are," Scott said Friday after a speech to the right-leaning Federalist Society in Washington. "The only way I've ever gotten anything done in life is to sit down with people and see if there's common ground."

In his speech at the Mayflower Hotel, Scott urged conservatives to put the election behind them, and he decried the "constant campaign" of endless partisan politics in America.

"We may not be happy with the current occupant of the White House," Scott said, "but the question is, what are you going to do about it?"

He urged audience members, many of them lawyers, to get more deeply involved in the political system by "spreading conservative ideals," and to "take a pro bono case defending a state or local government under attack from a liberal special interest group."

Times staff writer Alex Leary in Washington contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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