1. Opinion

Editorial: Hypocrisy in the House

Published May 14, 2013

Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday didn't want to talk about 1 million of the state's poor who don't have health insurance. Or about how Floridians and their health care system inevitably absorb the cost when the uninsured are in crisis. They tried to change the subject when asked at a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting in St. Petersburg about news reports that juxtaposed Republican House members' generous taxpayer-covered health insurance with their votes to reject federal Medicaid expansion dollars to cover 1 million uninsured — and pump $51 billion into the state economy. Floridians shouldn't so easily dismiss the hypocrisy.

Tuesday was a repeat of the just-completed session, with Republican Reps. Larry Ahern of St. Petersburg and Ed Hooper of Clearwater defending the House decision by making the same specious argument that the federal government could not be counted on to actually pay for Medicaid expansion or the alternative passed by the Florida Senate and supported by Gov. Rick Scott that gave private insurance to the state's poor using the federal funds.

Ahern trumpeted a House-backed plan that would have covered only 130,000 people, with the entire $2 billion cost over 10 years borne by the state. What he didn't mention: The plan would have charged the state's poorest parents and disabled adults a $25-a-month premium, three times the $8.34 House lawmakers pay, and the state would have contributed only $2,000 toward private coverage — less than a third of the approximately $7,000 taxpayer contribution for each lawmaker's coverage.

The facts remain that by rejecting the $51 billion in federal funding over 10 years that would have flowed under the expanded Medicaid provisions of the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans put their ideology over the health of Floridians and the financial stability of the state's safety net hospitals. They also imposed unnecessary costs on Florida taxpayers, relinquished the benefits that come from returning federal taxes that Floridians pay, and forfeited the economic growth those federal dollars would spur.

Florida hospitals will be doubly hit. The number of poor, uninsured patients won't be substantially reduced, as it will in states that took the expanded Medicaid funds, but hospitals' federal funding to treat the uninsured is set to shrink by an estimated $10 million. Meanwhile state taxpayers will still be on the hook to pay $430 million a year for the Medically Needy Program, costs that the Medicaid expansion would have covered.

House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, who led this charge to reject Medicaid expansion, said Monday that next year the House will look to raise its health insurance premiums to levels consistent with the state Senate, which began paying the same rates as state employees in 2012 ($50 a month).

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But that still won't help 1 million of the state's poor, ensure that Floridians enjoy the benefits of federal taxes they pay, or aid the state's economy.


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