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  1. Florida Politics

Report: Florida Medicaid expansion could create 71,300 jobs

Published Feb. 20, 2013

A report released by two consumer groups Wednesday makes a pro-business case for Medicaid expansion in Florida, saying the infusion of federal money in the state would create 71,300 jobs and $8.9 billion in economic activity.

Most of those new jobs would be in the health care industry as an estimated 1.8 million people gain coverage through the Medicaid expansion, according to the report from expansion advocates Florida CHAIN and national health consumer organization Families USA. An earlier study done for the Florida Hospital Association estimated that the infusion of federal funds would add 56,000 jobs to the state.

The $8.9 billion figure is a calculation of the money trickling into the economy once people start getting health care. It represents everything from doctors using the revenue to upgrade their facilities to workers needing to take fewer sick days, said Families USA spokesman Bryan Fisher.

Refusing the expansion "would be an act of fiscal malpractice," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

"Every Floridian has a stake in this," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN.

The jobs and spending figures are projections for 2016.

Though the Affordable Care Act originally required all states to expand Medicaid coverage to more poor people, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling made that expansion optional. Florida has not yet made its decision. Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators have questioned whether Medicaid costs would go up more quickly than projected, and leaving the state on the hook.

Under the current Florida Medicaid program, the federal government pays 58 percent of the cost of care, with the state picking up the rest. But if Florida agrees to make more residents, including poor people without children, eligible for Medicaid the federal government would agree to pick up the tab for newcomers to the program through 2016.

Starting in 2017, the state would start paying a small share, which would reach 10 percent of the expansion costs for 2020 and beyond.

Florida has one of the nation's stingiest Medicaid programs. Poverty alone won't qualify you; most nondisabled adults under 65 who don't have minor children can't get any coverage.

Under the new law, the federal government will send billions to states that expand coverage to those who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level — about $32,000 for a family of four. The expansion would also extend coverage to single people who meet income requirements.

The new report assumes about 1.8 million Florida residents would gain coverage through the expansion. That's a higher figure than the 1 million estimate that has been widely used. Pollock attributed his higher figure to the assumption that a more people who qualify would seek coverage than others have estimated.

Families First contracted with Regional Economic Models Inc., a private company with clients including state governments, universities, utility companies and corporations, to come up with the economic forecasting calculations for Medicaid expansion in Florida.

The report also says that agreeing to the expansion would reduce state spending on uncompensated care at hospitals. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates Florida could save $1.3 billion in state money on uncompensated care costs from this year to 2022.

That's still not as much as the hospitals are losing. The Florida Hospital Association says that the state's hospitals absorb around $3 billion in costs for providing charity care to the uninsured. Still, advocates say the Medicaid expansion would help reduce that loss.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

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