After being the first to claim his state would undoubtedly opt out of Medicaid expansion when the choice was announced in July, Florida Gov. Rick Scott changes his tune. His automatic response, if finalized, would continue to leave millions of uninsured Floridians sans coverage. However, Wednesday, the Republican governor declared his “new perspective” at a press conference.
“Expanding access to Medicaid services for three years is a compassionate, common sense step forward. It is not the end of our work to improve health care…And, it is not a white flag of surrender to government-run health care,” Scott said.
This is an incredible win for the Obama administration, health reform, and the under-served populations of Florida. The formerly budget-focused and insensitive Scott has pivoted in the direction of equality with this important move – though not without harsh criticism from his tea party supporters.
In July, following the Supreme Court ruling to proceed with with health reform, making Medicaid expansion optional, Scott was on the mic in no time professing his disdain for the policy. Although the federal government still offered to pick up most of the tab, Scott fervently declined the offer in the name of the state budget.
He said, “Florida will opt out of spending approximately $1.9 billion more taxpayer dollars required to implement a massive entitlement expansion of the Medicaid program . . . since Florida is legally allowed to opt out, that’s the right decision for our citizens.”
On Wednesday, Scott said, “While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.” A truly astounding change from several months ago, this makes Scott the seventh Republican governor to increase access to public health insurance for low-income and disabled Americans.
Scott urged the members of Wednesday’s press conference to acknowledge the the “poorest and weakest” Floridians’ need for help. He also was reminded that his proposal still must pass through the Republican-led Florida Legislature in order to be implemented.
According to several lawmakers, Scott’s decision is respected, but there are still many doubts among them. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, claims, “I am personally skeptical that this inflexible law will improve the quality of health care in our state and ensure our long-term financial stability.” Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the senators will make their decisions by early March.
Scott was prompted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ agreement to grant Florida a waiver earlier in the day, which would permit the state to enroll nearly all of its Medicaid members into private managed care. The governor had previously stated that Florida would be unable to offer Medicaid to more residents unless the federal government gave the green light on a managed care-centered program.
After receiving approval for the waiver from CMS, Scott reported, “This is a great win for Florida, and it would not have been possible without the support of legislators who began the fight for this Medicaid flexibility many months ago.”
Gov. Scott felt the need to take a different approach following an important event in his personal life: “A few months ago, my mother passed away, and I lost one of the only constants in my life,” Scott said. “Losing someone so close to you puts everything in new perspective . . . especially the big decisions.” Scott reflected on how his mother, Esther, helped Scott’s disabled brother enroll in a public health plan, and asserted that being poor should not disqualify anyone from receiving good healthcare.
Following Scott’s decision, investors turned their gaze to private Medicaid HMOs, namely the Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans, operating Medicaid managed care in eight states including Florida. WellCare’s stocks ticked up a bit early Thursday morning, and Molina Healthcare shares are also on the rise.
Will other red states follow Scott’s lead, we hope? Implementing Medicaid expansion in Texas would be a phenomenal feat, but after Scott’s decision, it may be possible. Texas holds 11 percent of the nation’s would-be Medicaid eligibles, while Florida’s expansion would cover 6 percent of uninsured, low-income U.S. residents.
The energy expended by Scott’s enthusiastic opposition only landed him in a place of concession to a good financial decision. Sometimes, officials have to forget what party they belong to and accept a large sum of money, and the Florida governor is doing so with long-awaited 180° turn, aiming for improved access to care in his state.
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