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Tampa Bay Times ups its pressure on the Legislature to expand Medicaid

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As Florida lawmakers head back up to Tallahassee Monday morning to begin a Special Session necessary to finalize a state budget, the Tampa Bay Times is taking a strong stand in favor of expanding the state’s subsidized healthcare program.

The Republican-controlled House adjourned its regular session three days early in late April over an impasse in the budget largely pertaining to healthcare funding.

Florida still has not accepted $51 billion in federal dollars to expand Medicaid to 800,000 uninsured Floridians. At first, that didn’t appear to have any immediate effect on the state budget. But this year, legislators were looking down the barrel at a loss of $1 million for indigent care.

Those are Low Income Pool funds that go to hospitals that treat uninsured patients. Under Medicaid expansion, the amount of indigent care was expected to go down, decreasing the federal government’s contribution. But since Florida hasn’t expanded Medicaid, it hasn’t gone down and the state needs that money.

The Tampa Bay Times has implored GOP lawmakers to take the money from the start. Its editorial board has written opinion after opinion on why lawmakers should take the money. The Times’ feisty columnists including Dan Ruth and John Romano have both poked fun at the ideological group of GOP lawmakers seeming to hold healthcare, and the state budget, hostage in protest of Obamacare.

But in its latest editorial, the Times issues a no-frills, no-nonsense list of 25 reasons to expand Medicaid. Where previous editorials have focused on the moral value of expanding healthcare to low-income workers, this one emphasizes hard facts about what happens when 800,000 Floridians suddenly have healthcare within their reach.

First and foremost, without taking federal money Florida would be rejecting $2.8 billion. In addition, the Times notes, expanding Medicaid would save Floridians more than $1 billion over five years.

Conservative lawmakers often lament that entitlements like Medicaid foster a lazy sect of citizens content to live off “handouts” from the government. But as the Times writes in its number 12 spot on its list of reasons to expand Medicaid, individuals would pay between $3 and $25 for a plan.

And its not tied to Obamacare.

The Times also rejects some common arguments by House Republicans for not expanding Medicaid. They often say there’s good reason to worry the federal government may back off its promise to cover 90 percent of the cost of expansion after 2016 and all of it until then. That would leave Florida holding the bag, they argue.

But the plan proposed in the Senate to finally end the stalemate would be null and void if the fed ever failed to keep up its end of the bargain.

House Republicans also argue the state’s Medicaid program is broken and the state shouldn’t put more money into a failed system. But the Senate plan doesn’t. Rather than siphon uninsured Floridians into the existing Medicaid program, that plan would place the newly qualified low-income workers into private plans.

More numbers from the Times – people insured by private healthcare providers pay an average of 8 percent higher than they should because they have to absorb the cost of uncompensated care. The federal government is set to reduce its funding for uncompensated care from $2.2 billion to $1 billion and then down to just $600 million after 2016.

That means a loss for local hospitals that they, the Times lists, would be unable to “eat.”

The House has previously suggested funding losses to LIP funding with state money. The Times writes “that would eat most of the state’s budget surplus for 2015-16” and “the hole would be even deeper the following year.”

They also point out that extra expense would reduce funding for things like public schools and the environment. It would also leave 800,000 uninsured Floridians out to dry.

They wrap the list up by pointing out numerous groups – Chambers of Commerce, AARP, the Florida Hospital Association, the Associated Industries of Florida and others – have shown bipartisan support for expanding Medicaid. There are also 29 states that have already done what Florida is still grappling with. Ten of those states have Republican governors.

The Times special editorial also includes a petition. As of Monday morning there were 141 impassioned responses to the petition all calling on lawmakers to take the federal money and provide crucial healthcare for low-income Floridians.

The Times calls the issue “Florida’s Heath Care Crisis.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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