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Rick Scott sues feds over Obamacare, Low Income Pool dollars

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Gov. Rick Scott filed a lawsuit in federal court in Pensacola on Tuesday seeking declaratory relief that the Obama Administration violated the U.S. Constitution by withholding supplemental Medicaid funding from the state in the form of Low Income Pool dollars.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after the House of Representatives announced on Tuesday it was adjourning for the regular legislative session due to an impasse on Medicaid expansion and the Low Income Pool program. The Florida Senate has proposed in its budget to include LIP funding as well as a Medicaid expansion but the House included neither. As a result the chambers are more than $4 billion apart in spending.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Agency for Health Care Administration are the plaintiffs in the 22-page lawsuit. Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are the defendants.

Scott had previously announced he was going to sue the federal government for “coercing” the state into Medicaid expansion by threatening to withhold Low Income Pool dollars if the state did not expand Medicaid under the federal  healthcare law.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit Gov. Scott said “President Obama’s sudden end to the Low Income Pool (LIP) healthcare program to leverage us for Obamacare is illegal and a blatant overreach of executive power.”

The Low Income Pool program is a supplemental Medicaid financing program that is made possible under an 1115 Medicaid waiver. The federal government approved the waiver for a three- year extension last year but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last April that it would not extend the Low Income Pool beyond June 30, 2015.

Nevertheless, Scott built his proposed 2015-16 budget with the assumption that the money would be there and, moreover, downplayed at an Associated Press conference in January that the funding wouldn’t be renewed.

“His administration is effectively attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead. This sort of coercion tactic has already been called illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner issued a statement noting that the governor was entitled to sue the federal government but that he didn’t see how it would “yield a timely resolution to the critical healthcare challenges facing our state.”

“The Senate budget anticipated the potential reduction or elimination of LIP funding and included solutions to provide uninsured Floridians access to healthcare services and coverage,” Gardiner said in the statement. “We remain hopeful CMS will approve the Senate proposal submitted by AHCA.”

The federal government notified Florida in a letter earlier this month that supplemental financing pools such as the Low Income Pool were not an effective use of taxpayers’ dollars and that access to health insurance was the preferred policy to pursue.

The correspondence triggered letters from Florida’s congressional Republicans as well as Florida’s Deputy Medicaid Director Justin Senior. Gov. Scott threatened to sue and appeared on Fox news accusing the Obama administration of bullying the state and acting like the Sopranos, the fictional New Jersey mob family in the long-running popular HBO series.

Scott made his political name opposing Obamacare but in 2013 reversed his position saying he supported expanding Medicaid coverage to uninsured Floridians so long as the federal government was footing the bill. The governor reiterated his support for Medicaid expansion while on the campaign trail in 2014 seeking re-election.

But Scott reversed his position on Medicaid expansion earlier this session and came out fighting against any attempt to expand the healthcare program for upward of 800,000 uninsured Floridians.

The Florida Senate has championed expanding the Medicaid expansion, saying it’s a way to keep LIP funding intact. The House, meanwhile, has opposed the move.

“Providing Floridians, especially our low-income population, with access to affordable, high-quality health care remains one of our top priorities – and the driving force behind our Medicaid reform efforts over the last several years. How we provide access to healthcare and insurance is a matter for intense deliberation and careful action. It is not a bargaining chip to be used by the Obama administration to force Florida into taking on Obamacare.”

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