Health

Florida Governor Tricked Obama On Medicaid Expansion

CREDIT: Office of Rick Scott / Meredyth Hope Hall

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL)

Lawmakers in Florida are accusing Gov. Rick Scott (R), a former health care executive, of exploiting his mother’s death to trick the Obama administration into allowing private companies to manage the state’s Medicaid program.

The charge stems from Scott’s sudden decision, in 2013, to embrace the Medicaid expansion provision contained in President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, after years of vehemently opposing it, only to pull back his support once the administration approved the governor’s Medicaid reform proposal.

“A few months ago, my mother passed away, and I lost one of the only constants in my life,” Scott said during a Feb. 20, 2013 press conference announcing that he will accept Obamacare funding to extend Medicaid coverage to 800,000 low-income people in the state. “As I wrestled with this decision, I thought about my Mom’s struggles raising five kids with very little money,” he continued. “It was my Mom – the wife of a WWII veteran – who taught me something I still believe today: this country is the greatest in the world. America’s greatness is largely because of how we value the weakest among us.”

Four months after Scott publicly backed expansion, the Obama administration officially approved a waiver allowing the state to shift hundreds of thousands of low-income and elderly Florida Medicaid recipients into private managed-care plans. Scott had championed this kind of Medicaid reform during his first gubernatorial campaign, even though an initial pilot program in five Florida counties had mixed results. Critics also raised concerns about a conflict of interest, noting that the plan could benefit a chain of urgent care clinics Scott founded and transferred to his wife upon becoming Florida’s governor.

Soon after securing approval of his initiative, Scott began to withdraw his support for accepting Obamacare funding and never advocated for it in the state legislature. He now opposes Medicaid expansion.

Scott “engaged in a deceitful plan to privatize Medicaid, all while pretending to embrace an expansion of the program that would help his constituents,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the AP on Friday. Republican State Sen. Joe Negron agreed, saying, “In his mind those two policy items were linked.”

Ironically, Scott is now suing the federal government for failing to expand a different temporary Medicaid pilot project that helps support hospitals serving low-income and uninsured patients. Federal officials won’t renew the program, claiming that they warned Scott of its expiration. They argue that expanding Medicaid would expand coverage to more Floridians and do more to boost the finances of Florida hospitals.