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Impasse over Medicaid expansion sparks rebellion in Florida

By Carol Gentry | May 01, 2013

Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

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In the Florida legislature, Democrats are so angry over House Republicans' refusal to accept federal funds to expand health coverage that they deliberately caused action on the floor to grind to a halt. The deliberate slowdown — which started Tuesday afternoon and continues today — threatens to reduce the number of bills that will get a vote before Friday's end of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was visiting Tallahassee, took the opportunity to blast House Republicans' refusal to accept the funds, the Tampa Bay Times reported. She said they were acting like spoiled children, pouting over the loss of the 2012 election.

She also called out Gov. Rick Scott for his "deathbed conversion" to Medicaid expansion, demanding that he put some muscle into the fight for the funds.

Democrats are in the minority in the Florida House, but they had enough votes to require that every bill be read in its entirety, not just summarized — a maneuver that takes so much time it could block many bills from getting a vote if the stall continues. The session is scheduled to end Friday.

As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, House Speaker Will Weatherford ordered the use of an auto-reader software application the speaker's office said was called "Mary." The robot-like voice can read the bills more swiftly than a human can.

In a prepared statement, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston said his caucus made the move "to bring greater public attention to our desire for legislative passage of the health coverage expansion plan that the Florida Senate approved earlier today."

The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a measure (HB 7169) to expand health coverage using federal funds as provided for under the Affordable Care Act. However the House has signaled a lack of interest in passing the Senate bill.

Under state Sen. Joe Negron's Healthy Florida plan, the federal money would be used to provide private health-insurance coverage — akin to the plan passed in Arkansas — to an estimated 1.1 million of the state's low-income uninsured.

According to a recent report by the Agency for Health Care Administration, the expansion would actually save the state money because it would no longer need some of the programs it now funds.

Calling it a "bipartisan plan," the Florida Senate approved the bill with just one dissenting vote. Having rejected the concept last week on a vote that mostly followed party lines, the House has signaled it does not intend to take up the bill.

"It’s unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that a drastic situation requires drastic tactics," Thurston said.

He said the many uninsured people who could gain coverage may not even be aware that their fate could depend on the outcome of this standoff. "Today, I want them to know that the 44-member House Democratic Caucus stands in support of them," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters, Gov. Scott said he still has hopes that the House will pass the Senate plan. "There's a few days left in session and I'm very optimistic," he said.

But Negron, sponsor of the Senate plan, said Monday that reaching agreement with the House was "unlikely."

Health News Florida is a nonprofit news organization committed to in-depth coverage of Florida health care policy and politics. It is a partner of KHI News Service.

KHI News Service coverage of Medicaid expansion

Medicaid Access Coalition launches online "ticker" showing foregone federal dollars (2/13/14)
→ KHI report: Nearly 182,000 Kansans in the ‘Eligibility Gap’ (1/11/14)
House speaker says Medicaid expansion is "up to the governor" (1/10/14)
KS Senate president says Medicaid expansion unlikely to gain approval this session (1/7/14)
Profiles of the coverage gap: Kathleen Christian (1/6/14)
Efforts continue to expand Medicaid in Kansas and Missouri (1/6/14)
Hospital association hires former Bush HHS secretary to help craft a plan Kansas Republicans might support (12/23/13)
Iowa wins approval to expand Medicaid by using federal funds to buy private insurance (12/11/13)
White House officials hold call to urge Medicaid expansion in Kansas (11/21/13)
Republican governor talks up plan to expand Medicaid — his way (10/28/13)
Challenger says Brownback owes voters a decision on Medicaid expansion (10/22/13)
Nearly 5.2M Americans fall in coverage gap in states not expanding Medicaid (10/16/13)
Sebelius: Feds flexible on how states expand Medicaid (9/22/13)
Sebelius says Kansas and Missouri are missing the boat on Medicaid expansion (9/20/13)
Medicaid expansion coalition finds strength in numbers (9/17/13)
Republican Gov. Corbett proposes expanding Pennsylvania Medicaid (9/16/13)
Kansas lawmakers urged to consider Medicaid expansion by Wesley CEO (8/29/13)
Estimating maneuver could help more people gain from Obamacare: How the poor might qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies in states that don't expand Medicaid (8/12/13)
Report: States not expanding Medicaid stand to benefit most from doing so (7/18/13)
CMS won’t penalize hospitals in states slow to expand Medicaid (5/14/13)
Insurer Centene: We can do Arkansas-style Medicaid (5/14/13)
The Arkansas Medicaid Model: What you need to know about the 'private option' (5/2/13)
Nothing to be done about coverage gap in states not expanding Medicaid, feds say (4/29/13)
Brownback says he's listening to Medicaid expansion proponents, opponents (4/5/13)
Oregon shows costs of putting Medicaid enrollees in private coverage (3/29/13)
Governor urged to expand Medicaid eligibility (3/27/13)
Arkansas Medicaid expansion attracts other states' interest (3/26/13)
Senate president prefers options remain open on Medicaid expansion (3/25/13)
States urged to expand Medicaid with private insurance (3/22/13)
Senate budget amendment underscores opposition to Medicaid expansion (3/21/13)
Study: Kansas employers face millions a year in possible penalties without Medicaid expansion (3/15/13)
More than 30 Kansas groups pushing for Medicaid expansion (3/12/13)
Health insurers see big opportunities in health law’s Medicaid expansion (3/8/13)
Medicaid expansion supporters to step up lobbying efforts (3/7/13)
Budget committee hears resolution opposing Medicaid expansion (2/22/13)
Legislators focusing on Medicaid expansion cost estimates (2/19/13)
Kansas hospital group study predicts expanding Medicaid would generate 4,000 jobs (2/18/13)
Brownback officials release their cost projections for Medicaid expansion (2/8/13)
Medicaid expansion bill introduced (1/22/13)
Kansas hospitals worried about loss of dollars for charity care (1/14/13)
Brownback compiling own estimate of Medicaid expansion cost (12/20/12)
Group urges Brownback to expand Medicaid eligibility (11/9/12)
Debate begins on possible Kansas Medicaid expansion (10/25/12)
Amerigroup CEO says states ‘need’ to go along with Medicaid expansion (7/11/12)
Kansas hospitals ready to get on with federal health reform, spokesman says (7/2/12)
Kansas AG claims partial victory in health reform case (6/29/12)
High court upholds Affordable Care Act, but ruling puts limits on Medicaid expansion (6/28/12)

→ Kansas Hospital Association: An opportunity for the Kansas Medicaid program
→ Americans for Prosperity-Kansas: Well-intentioned policies do more harm than good
→ Health Reform Resource Project: The cost of not expanding Medicaid
→ Rep. Jim Ward: Medicaid expansion essential for healthier Kansas
→ Rep. David Crum: Reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion
→ National Academy for State Health Policy: Much ado about Arkansas: Medicaid in the insurance exchange

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