After Rejecting Millions In Federal Health Grants, Florida Accepts ACA Money For Abstinence-Only Education

Children at risk of abuse, patients in need of long-term care, poor residents eligible for Medicaid — they all could have benefited from greater access to health care if Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) had accepted millions of dollars in grants from the federal government. Instead, he followed the state legislature’s “well-established policy of not implementing any portion of federal heath care reform through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

And yet lawmakers were willing to forego that prohibition to accept over $2.5 million in ACA money to fund abstinence-only sex education, even though the program offers students very little by way of health-related information. The New York Times delved into Scott’s rationale for rejecting millions in federal cash and refusing to pursue millions more in grants made available under the health law:

“In interviews, Mr. Scott, a Republican, and state legislative leaders were clear about their rationale. They said they detested everything about the federal health law, which was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in a case filed by the state. Unless ordered to do otherwise by an appellate court, they said, they had no intention of putting it in place, even if that meant leaving money on the table.

“There are a lot of programs that the federal government would like to give you that don’t fit your state, don’t fit your needs and ultimately create obligations that our taxpayers can’t afford,” said Mr. Scott.”

The abstinence program that Scott is willing to support, however, is not working. Florida ranked sixth among states for its teen pregnancy rates in 2009. Among 2008’s teen mothers, 57 percent reported they weren’t using birth control, and 45 percent thought they couldn’t become pregnant. Furthermore, Florida had the fourth largest population of people living with HIV in the nation, with a 2006 HIV-incidence rate of 45.9 among 16-19 year-olds–nearly twice the national rate at that time.

Scott’s refusal to accept most ACA health grants has drawn sharp criticism from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. As she put it, ”there are some newly elected officials on the Republican side that have decided that their political ideology is more important than anything — more important than the health needs of their citizens, more important than the economic stability of the economy, more important than the future of jobs in America — so I think it is very unfortunate for citizens of Florida,” Sebelius said. “It is very troubling.”

Sarah Bufkin