Taking it to the streets: Democrats push GOP to allow voters to weigh in on Medicaid expansion

'Let's not be afraid of the discussion. Let's not be afraid of debate.'

Florida Democrats — constantly rebuffed by the Republican majority for years now — are mounting yet another effort to expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured childless adults.

But instead of trying to sway GOP legislators to finally act, they are beseeching them to at least let voters weigh in on the issue at the polls during the upcoming election.

Democratic lawmakers Sens. Annette Taddeo and Victor Torres, and Reps. Felicia Robinson and Geraldine Thompson  pleaded with Republican legislative leaders Tuesday to schedule debate on two proposed joint resolutions (SJR 412 and HJR 239) that would put Medicaid expansion on the 2022 ballot. 

The lawmakers say Florida is leaving $200 million a year on the table by refusing to expand Medicaid for lower-income childless adults as authorized under the federal health care law commonly called Obamacare.

“We’re urging our colleagues to put the bill on the agenda,” said Robinson, a House member from Miami Gardens who was first elected in 2020. “Let’s not be afraid of the discussion. Let’s not be afraid of debate.”

Alternatively, the Democratic lawmakers said, their GOP peers in leadership positions could schedule hearings on SB 1504 and HB 27, which would expand Medicaid without voter approval. 

Jointly funded by the federal and state governments, Medicaid is the safety net program for the state’s poor, elderly and disabled. There were 5,035,950 people enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program as of Dec. 31, according to the latest available data. Most of them, nearly 4 million, are enrolled in Medicaid managed care programs.

Florida is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to uninsured childless adults as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. The Florida Legislature has not seriously considered a Medicaid expansion since 2015, when the Florida Senate’s push to expand the safety net program to childless adults derailed the regular Legislative Session.

But the federal government included a number of incentives in the American Rescue Plan for the 12 holdout states to expand Medicaid.

Under the expansion, the federal government would cover 90% of the cost of Medicaid for childless adults. But included in the American Rescue Plan is a provision that gives holdout states a 5-percentage-point bump in the amount of federal dollars used to fund the existing Medicaid program, as well as 90% of the costs of childless adults.

The increase is in addition to the 6.2% bump the state has been receiving to help fund the program since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taddeo said the state would gain $3 billion if it expanded Medicaid.

While Florida didn’t take advantage of the Medicaid expansion incentive in the American Rescue Plan, the Legislature did agree to tap into two other Medicaid incentives included in the federal law pushed by President Joe Biden‘s administration.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls pushed the state to access federal funds to extend the length of time that postpartum women can tap into Medicaid benefits. In nonexpansion states, coverage is limited to two months. The federal law authorized postpartum women to receive the benefits for 12 months and provided additional funding.

It was a top priority for Sprowls during the 2021 Session.

The Ron DeSantis administration also chose to access an additional 10% bump in federal funds for home- and community-based services that were being made available to states. The Agency for Health Care Administration submitted its request to the federal government to receive $1.2 billion in additional federal funds for these services.

It was approved late last year, and the state is beginning to distribute some of the funds to the direct-care service providers who work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

This is not the first year that Taddeo, who is running for Governor, has pushed for voters to weigh in on Medicaid expansion. She said she’s hopeful this year will be different.

“One would hope that in an election year, (our elected officials) would want to take care of Floridians,” Taddeo said.


Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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