Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), a former hospital CEO and ardent Obamacare critic, announced at a press conference Wednesday evening that he will accept Obamacare funding in order to expand his state’s Medicaid program for low-income Americans. The move comes after Scott secured a waiver to privatize the public insurance program.
The decision represents a marked departure from Scott’s previously held stance. Scott didn’t just initially oppose taking part in the expansion — which the Supreme Court ruled to be optional last summer — he knowingly cited wildly inaccurate figures to inflate the program’s cost to the state by 2500 percent in an effort to discredit it. He eventually dropped his estimate for the expansion by $23 billion in the face of intense media scrutiny. The federal government will pay the lion’s share of funding for states that expand Medicaid, including fully funding expansions for the first three years.
Participating in the expansion will provide medical and financial security to about one million low-income Americans in Florida, a state that has one of the nation’s highest uninsurance rates. But some public health officials worry that Scott’s concurrent decision to privatize the state’s Medicaid program could leave poor Americans by the wayside. An initial pilot program for the privatization in five Florida counties was rife with collusive practices, dropped coverage, and profit-making at the expense of Floridians’ health — but Florida lawmakers claim that they have fixed the problems, citing “increased oversight and more stringent penalties, including fining providers up to $500,000 if they drop out.”
Scott’s decision comes after intense lobbying by Florida’s hospitals, who would benefit greatly from treating low-income Floridians with actual insurance as it would substantially lower their uncompensated care costs. “If Florida doesn’t expand Medicaid, we’re going to have the money taken out of one pocket, we just won’t get it put back in the other,” said Tommy Inzina, chief administrative officer at BayCare Health System.
But regardless of Scott’s motives, his actions could serve as a model for the 10 remaining GOP governors who have still not announced whether or not they will take part in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. To date, six other Republican governors — in Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, and Nevada — have decided to expand their Medicaid programs. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker recently announced his own alternative plan that, while better than nothing, will substantially limit the number of services and benefits that low-income Wisconsinites have access to.
At a press conference announcing the expansion, Scott clarified that the expansion will sunset in three years, after which it would have to be reauthorized. Scott said that this is intended to hold the federal government to its promise of providing most of the expansion’s funding and provide Florida ample time to study the effectiveness of expanding Medicaid.