Column: Florida needs special session on Medicaid

Published June 28, 2013

What does Arizona have that Florida doesn't? What do Iowa, Connecticut and Colorado have that Florida still lacks? Their states have all accepted and are moving forward with Medicaid expansion, part of the 24 states that have already accepted these funds to cover health care for our nation's lowest income workers.

This session legislators left the capital without finishing one of their most important pieces of business, figuring out how to accept the single largest capital investment in Florida's economic future: Medicaid expansion.

According to the University of Florida, a recent study showed acceptance of the $51 billion funding package would add 122,000 good-paying jobs, with many jobs over $50,000 a year in the area of science, technology and medicine. Can we and our children afford to miss out on that?

Days ago, a national and state business expert, representing some of our nation's and state's largest businesses, expressed a simple message: Not accepting the Medicaid expansion funds could jeopardize Florida's recent economic growth and will add costs to businesses.

How will turning down federal Medicaid funds cost Florida businesses money, and possibly send our companies elsewhere? It's simple.

Florida has one of the highest number of uninsured workers in the country (our state economy depends on three low-paying industries: agriculture, tourism and construction). When these uncovered workers need health care, they wait until the last minute and receive care in the most expensive venue: the hospital emergency room.

Hospitals then charge paying customers more to cover those costs. Who are the paying customers? You and me, and Florida's business owners. Health care costs are predicted to rise by as much as 30 percent unless the federal funds are accepted.

Meanwhile in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, called her legislature into special session with a clear instruction: Pass Medicaid expansion. She enlisted business leaders and traveled the state with them explaining why it was needed. In a bone-jarring 24-hour session, they did.

The Medicaid expansion was Brewer's top policy goal. For five months she pushed its passage with rallies across the state and the backing of a group of business and health care groups. As she signed the law, Brewer said passage would protect rural and other hospitals from the rising costs of paying for uninsured patients, inject $2 billion into the state's economy and create thousands of jobs.

We hope Florida citizens will join with the League of Women Voters in calling on House Speaker Will Weatherford and Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session. It's time to seize this opportunity to move Florida closer to solving the challenge of a healthier workforce and an improved, more competitive economy.

Deirdre Macnab is state president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.