TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Gov. Rick Scott slammed a Florida House proposal Thursday that would pass up billions of federal dollars to provide health care coverage to 115,000 uninsured Floridians in a watered down alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.
The proposal relies entirely on $237 million in state taxpayer funds and would not tap into an estimated $51 billion dollars in federal aid available under the Affordable Care Act over the next decade.
It would also offer coverage to thousands fewer residents, covering only those making 100 percent of the federal poverty level as opposed to the roughly 1 million residents that would have been covered through Medicaid expansion.
The Obama Administration has sought to increase health coverage to more Americans by expanding Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — something many state GOP lawmakers are opposed to.
Instead, House Republicans plan to expand a health insurance program pushed by former House Speaker Marco Rubio that would give residents state money to help them obtain coverage from the private insurers through the online health exchange. Rubio's plan — known as Florida Health Choices — has had trouble getting off the ground and currently doesn't insure anyone.
"The House's plan will cost Florida taxpayers on top of what they are already taxed under the President's new healthcare law. This would be a double-hit to state taxpayers," Scott said in a statement.
Scott made an about-face decision earlier this year saying he supported Medicaid expansion because it was the compassionate, common-sense approach, but he's said he's open to alternatives after committees in both the House and Senate rejected expanding Medicaid. Scott signaled Thursday he would support a Senate plan proposed by Sen. Joe Negron "because it protects both state taxpayers and the uninsured in our state."
Negron's bill would still tap into billions of federal dollars and use those funds for vouchers so patients could purchase private health insurance. His plan would utilize Florida Healthy Kids, an organization he says has a strong record with the state.
But House Republicans made it clear that they would not accept any health plan that relies on federal funds, worrying that if they expand the program the federal government will not make good on its promise to fund it. The federal government has promised to foot the entire bill for three years and 90 percent after that. That's a much better deal than the state currently has for Medicaid patients, with the feds paying roughly half.
"Maybe it's the $16 trillion deficit that gives me pause," said Weatherford. "The federal government is more interested in expanding a flawed program. We think this is an opportunity to lead the health care debate not just in Florida, but to take a new idea for people who don't have care and do it in a more responsible way. I don't think we should be relying, long term, on a federal solution to our health care needs in the state of Florida."
The House proposal is similar to another plan in the Senate by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who also wants to rely on state dollars. But the House plan is more comprehensive and would offer coverage to disabled adults and adults with children. Most of the plans would provide low-cost preventative and primary care visits, subsidized by state funds.
Negron said he still preferred the Senate proposal, but he praised the House effort as a "well-thought out plan" to provide coverage to some uninsured.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Negron.
Angry House Democrats have said finding an affordable way to expand health coverage is still do-able even though the Legislative session is past the midpoint.
House Democrats felt so strongly about the health care decision they initially agreed to withhold their support for the House's proposed $74 billion budget to signal their strong advocacy for action. But shortly after the House proposal was released House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston said he went to fellow Democrats and said they should vote on the budget as they deem appropriate.
Thurston, however, criticized the House proposal.
"The problem is that they've been dragging their feet, they still don't want to accept the money that's there," Thurston said. "Other states will take it. As a donor state, we'll continue to give, give and we won't receive for our residents. And it's because it's the most needy residents in the state of Florida."
Associated Press writers James Rosica and Bruce Schreiner in Tallahassee contributed to this report.
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