Health News Florida
12:27 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Ad Urges FL to Turn Down Federal Medicaid Funds

A small-business lobbying group has launched a TV and online ad campaign to persuade Floridians to reject an estimated $51 billion in federal funds over the next decade -- money that would provide health coverage to about 1 million of the state's uninsured.

The sponsor of the ad is the Florida arm of The National Federation of Independent Business. It is the same group that partnered with Florida in a failed effort to get the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional after President Obama signed it into law in 2010.

In its ruling last summer, the Supreme Court upheld most of the health law. The only exception was the requirement that states expand Medicaid to include low-income individuals and families who had not previously been eligible because although their incomes were very low, they weren't in one of the categories covered by the current program. The categories are children, pregnant women, mentally and physically disabled adults and the frail elderly in nursing homes.

The court said that states had a right to decide whether to expand their Medicaid programs. Florida's Gov. Rick Scott at first said no. But a few weeks ago he changed his mind, along with more than half a dozen other Republican governors.

Committees studying implementation of the Affordable Care Act in both the Florida House and Senate voted against expanding Medicaid earlier this month. But Sen. Joe Negron, Appropriations Committee chairman, suggested an alternative for the Medicaid expansion population that he called "Healthy Florida." It would use the money to pay for coverage under private plans, managed by the non-profit Healthy Kids Corp.

The governor has indicated he likes the idea, and federal health officials say it could work. But House leaders balked, saying they are unwilling to accept federal funds that might fall through later on.

The NFIB-Florida campaign aims to shore up the House position, even as the state's largest business groups -- including Associated Industries and the Florida Hospital Association -- support the Senate position.

NFIB-Florida has a website with a petition that asks citizens to say "No Thanks" to the federal funds.

The ad plays down the amount of money that would be left on the table. And it doesn't mention that saying no would likely result in the money going to some other state, as when Gov. Scott turned down federal funds for high-speed rail.

The ad argues that the federal government can't be trusted to follow through on providing the funds, given its financial squeeze, and will leave the state in the lurch. The ad points out that the state has to put up $3.5 billion over 10 years to bring in the $51 billion, as the state's budget analysts estimate.

It also questions the need to provide coverage for "able-bodied adults."

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research, which reports to the Legislature, says the majority of those who would qualify for Healthy Florida are working adults in households with incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

That's around $16,000 a year for an individual -- someone who makes about $8 an hour for a 40-hour-a-week job. For a family, that 138-percent limit depends on the number of people in the household, but it's about $32,500 for a family of four.

--Health News Florida is a service of WUSF Public Media. Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 (desk) or 727-410-3266 (cell) or by e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org.