Two years ago, Gov. Rick Scott announced his support for expanding access to healthcare in Florida saying he couldn’t, “in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.” Fast forward to 2015 and he is opposed to a plan to close Florida’s coverage gap endorsed by the entire Florida Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike. After this latest about-face, one is left to wonder if Gov. Scott even has a conscience.
It doesn’t take much to understand the need for healthcare expansion. Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured in the nation, with nearly a million Floridians who fall into what is called “the coverage gap.” Their incomes are too low to qualify for health insurance subsidies and too high to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage.
Billions of Florida taxpayer dollars sit in Washington that could be used right now to make sure hardworking Floridians get the health coverage they need. It’s irresponsible and downright immoral for Gov. Scott and Florida House Republicans to cling to their extreme ideology while there’s such tremendous need throughout our state.
The constant refrain we hear from ideologues like Scott opposed to healthcare expansion is that “we can’t trust the federal government” when it comes to paying to close the coverage gap. But that argument is a red herring – the fact is that Florida already receives massive amounts of federal funding for programs ranging from education to infrastructure to public housing. In 2012, Florida received $22.85 billion in federal aid, nearly a full third of the state’s general revenue. Where was the outrage when it came to accepting these federal funds?
Scott and his legislative allies have known about the impending loss of the Low Income Pool (LIP) funding for safety net hospitals for some time but have failed to act. There is an easy solution to this problem: accept $5 billion to expand healthcare access under the Affordable Care Act. The only reason that this $5 billion in federal money is not already flowing to Florida is because the state has thus far been unwilling to accept it.
Despite an obstructionist Florida House and Gov. Scott flip-flopping on the issue, the Sunshine State enrolled more uninsured under Obamacare than any other state with a federal Marketplace. Now it’s time for House leaders and Gov. Scott to quit playing games with Floridians’ lives, and put healthcare expansion up for a vote.
Key constituents including Florida’s hospitals, business community, faith leaders and the public all overwhelmingly favor bringing home our tax dollars so that working Floridians can get the healthcare coverage they need. Recent polling shows that a 58 percent majority of Floridians favor expansion, with only 26 percent opposed.
In 2013, Gov. Scott said, “No mother, or father, should despair over whether or not they can afford – or access – the healthcare their child needs.”
Accepting funds to cover nearly a million uninsured Floridians is the commonsense and moral thing to do. If the Legislature were to put a bill on Gov. Scott’s desk that would close Florida’s disgraceful coverage gap, would Gov. Scott manage to find his lost conscience and sign it?
Mark Ferrulo is executive director of Progress Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.