The difference between right and wrong in the Florida Legislature is as obvious as light and darkness. Senators met in the sunshine Tuesday to discuss the considerable benefits of accepting federal Medicaid expansion money and revamping payments to hospitals for treating the uninsured. House Republicans met in secret and were asked to trust their leadership's rigid opposition to providing health coverage to low-income Floridians. It's hard to meet in public when your position is financially and morally irresponsible.
There are plenty of Republicans in Tallahassee who are speaking up for fiscal sanity and recognizing that all Floridians deserve access to affordable health care. At the moment, they all happen to be state senators. Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando praised his colleagues for embracing a sensible plan to use federal Medicaid expansion money to help pay for private health insurance for more than 800,000 Floridians. Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville criticized Gov. Rick Scott for not negotiating sooner with the Obama administration on overhauling the Low Income Pool, which helps cover costs for treating the uninsured, when it has been clear for months that Washington will not keep sending more than $1 billion a year without changes. Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah explained how it makes more economic sense to pay for health insurance so low-income Floridians can afford to see family doctors than to send them to expensive emergency rooms for charity care.
In public, the Senate built its case for sound public policy. The federal government will not keep sending money for charity care through the same Low Income Pool past June because many of those patients could be covered more efficiently and less expensively by using Medicaid expansion money to buy private coverage. Hospitals cannot afford to lose $1.5 billion in Low Income Pool money — the head of UF Health Jacksonville said that hospital would close within months without its $95 million. And over five years, embracing Medicaid expansion would save Florida money even though the state would pay a small share of the cost after 2016.
In secret, House Republican leaders focused on politics and misinformation. They provided talking points that suggest Medicaid expansion money and the Low Income Pool are unrelated (false); Florida would have no flexibility in designing an expansion program (false); and the Senate's goal is to expand existing Medicaid programs (false). The top Republicans remain focused on fighting the Obama administration and denying health care to low-income childless adults. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island was overheard by a reporter outside telling his colleagues, "We're asking you to trust us.''
Why should House Republicans from Tampa Bay trust those who would deny thousands of their constituents health care? Why should they trust those who would cost their local hospitals tens of millions of dollars for charity care? Why should they trust Crisafulli and the puppet master, House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, who are standing with the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity in opposition rather than with Florida businesses, the Florida medical community and Florida voters who support accepting Medicaid expansion money?
The Senate offers a reasonable bipartisan plan for solving this crisis. The House Republicans say "trust us.'' No wonder the Senate met in public and the House Republicans retreated behind closed doors.