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  1. Opinion

Editorial: End fiscal folly on Medicaid

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida House Republicans love to complain about government wasting money, particularly when they are focused on Washington. Yet they demand that the Obama administration keep sending money to cover hospital charity care and oppose helping low-income Floridians buy private health insurance. It is an indefensible position at odds with their support for fiscal restraint and private market solutions, but partisan politics has clouded their vision and put the health of nearly 1 million residents at risk.

With two weeks left in the legislative session, there is no break in the stalemate over how to cover medical costs for uninsured Floridians who cannot afford to buy health coverage. The Senate has embraced a bipartisan plan to use federal Medicaid expansion money to help pay for private insurance for more than 800,000 Floridians. That plan also would continue a version of the Low Income Pool that uses federal, state and local money to help cover the cost of charity care for hospitals and community health centers. The proposal has broad support from major business organizations, the medical community, the League of Women Voters and others.

Yet House Republicans stubbornly reject that approach, and the governor has abandoned his tepid support of accepting Medicaid expansion money. They want the federal government to just keep sending more than $1 billion to the Low Income Pool to keep paying for charity care. That is not the most responsible approach for taxpayers paying for expensive emergency room visits or for patients who need affordable preventive care. Despite the protests from the governor and other conservative Republicans, the Obama administration is justified in signaling it prefers the Senate's approach and will not agree to the status quo.

As the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wrote this week, the state has long known the Low Income Pool money is not going to keep flowing forever and received a one-year extension last year. Second, it makes no financial sense to keep spending money on charity care for patients who could have private insurance subsidized by federal Medicaid expansion money. And by accepting Medicaid expansion, Florida could receive $15 billion in federal money through 2016, create thousands of jobs and save millions in state dollars. No wonder 28 states, including 10 with Republican governors, have accepted the Medicaid expansion money and are achieving positive results.

With the facts not on their side, Scott and House Republicans are crying foul and misleading Floridians. The governor complains this week was the first time the federal government indicated Medicaid expansion and the Low Income Pool are linked. Not true. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — the accidental speaker controlled by future Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes — whines Florida is being held hostage by Washington. Not really. And Corcoran responds to those who email him about his rigid opposition by claiming the federal government will never approve the Senate's plan. Not a good prediction based on this week's warm assessment in Washington.

What is clear is that the clock is ticking on the legislative session, and the Obama administration's position is clear. Hospitals cannot eat $1 billion in charity care, and Florida cannot turn down billions in federal Medicaid dollars because House Republicans don't like the Democratic president. The Senate has a reasonable approach, and the business community has to help the governor and the House see the light.