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Kathy Castor says Rick Scott is ‘fighting for a wasteful, inefficient outdated pot of dollars’

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Rick Scott’s trip to Washington today to meet with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell regarding the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool (LIP) program that is set to expire at the end of next month did not come to a happy resolution.

As has been documented in the media, healthcare officials in Florida have been aware for several years that the LIP funding was set to expire in 2014, but after state officials begged for an extension from the feds, HHS gave the state a waiver for one more year of funding from the program, but with no guarantees that would extend beyond this June.

Despite that prior knowledge Gov Rick Scott relied on the $2.2 billion  when he crafted his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. At an Associated Press event in January, the governor downplayed the risk of building a budget with federal healthcare dollars that had not been approved.

The Senate also built LIP dollars into its budget but included along with it a Medicaid expansion. The House did not include LIP dollars in its budget and, additionally, went further and eliminated the LIP program from statutes.

But The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has come back to Florida officials to say that the program’s future is connected to the state’s decision on Medicaid expansion, which would provide health insurance to over 800,000 Floridians currently without health insurance.

But that plan is bitterly opposed by Florida House Republicans and the governor. The Florida Senate, House Democrats, and host of businesses in the state want the state to extend Medicaid. The problems have led to a budget impasse, creating the need for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the problem, as state law requires a budget by June 30. (That special session will now run from June 1-June 20.)

Tampa Bay area Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor helped the state get an extension of LIP funding, but she says that there’s a reason why the government no longer wants to provide that type of funding.

“The Governor has known for years that the Low Income Pool will be expiring,” Castor told Florida Politics in her West Tampa district office on Wednesday. “I know, because I fought for extension of the LIP in previous years. And I believe in it. But now, the health system is changing, and that is not the most efficient way to bring dollars back to the state of Florida. They would come, they would go to a committee, they are subject to political pressure. Some dollars are not going where they should. It’s not as much money. It’s wasteful, and it’s inefficient.”

Castor says the expansion of Medicaid funding is more “robust and effective” than relying on LIP funding, saying “the money doesn’t go through a committee that’s subject to political pressure. “

“Those monies under Medicaid expansion come directly and flow into Medicaid payment rates, that go directly to doctors, hospitals, community health centers and providers,” she said. “So Governor Scott is fighting for a wasteful, inefficient, outdated pot of dollars. He should be working in Florida’s best interest, in fighting (for) the most efficient, most robust, most effective expansion of health services under Medicaid, just like Florida businesses are advocating, Florida hospitals, patients, community health centers — there is a consensus across the state, and he can not be trapped in his ideological cage of ‘I oppose everything President Obama does.’ He needs to set that aside and work in the best interests of Floridians.”

In a statement, HHS Secretary Burwell reiterated Castor’s claims, saying that “Coverage rather than uncompensated care pools is the best way to secure affordable access to health care for low-income individuals, and uncompensated care pool funding should not pay for costs that would be covered in a Medicaid expansion.”

Scott told reporters in downtown Washington today after meeting with Secretary Burwell that he told her that “we need federal action right now. The low-income families in our state cannot wait on the federal government any longer.”

That comment chafed Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, who scolded Scott in a statement this afternoon, saying, “don’t claim you now have the welfare of the low-income families in this state as the reason for your finger-jabbing at Washington. Because one million uninsured Floridians you callously blocked from healthcare expansion are testament to the contrary.”

Last month the Scott administration filed a lawsuit against the federal government for threatening to withhold more than $1 billion in LIP funding for hospitals if the state fails to expand Medicaid.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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