Florida House Goes Home Three Days Early Over Medicaid Impasse

By  //  April 30, 2015


EDITOR’S NOTE: Governor Scott’s announcement that the state was suing the federal government is another twist in what has been a tenacious yearlong battle with Health and Human Services over federal money for Florida hospitals that serve the poor.

Dr. Jim Palermo
Dr. Jim Palermo

As previously reported in SpaceCoastDaily, the fight came to a head with Scott basing his claims on the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that bars the federal government from coercing states into expanding Medicaid.

The lawsuit plays into a heated battle over a Senate plan to use $2.8 billion in Medicaid expansion funding to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance. But the House and Scott — who once favored straight-up Medicaid expansion — oppose that idea.

The impasse between the upper and lower chambers of the Florida legislature on this pivotal issue has brought deliberations in their attempt to finalize a state budget to an abrupt halt.

— Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

KAISER HEALTH NEWS — The Florida House – at odds with the state Senate over the expansion of Medicaid – abruptly ended its session three days early on Tuesday, leaving hundreds of bills unrelated to health care unfinished.

Shortly after the adjournment, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the same issue.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (left) and Senate President Andy Gardiner (right) and their respective chambers are at an impasse over Medicaid expansion, which has brought deliberations in their attempt to finalize a state budget to an abrupt halt.

Here’s a brief overview of the fight: The Republican-led state House is firmly against Medicaid expansion, while the Republican-led state Senate, which is still in session, supports it. Scott once supported expansion but is now against it.

And the federal government raised the stakes of the battle by refusing to negotiate on the renewal of $2 billion in funds, mainly for the Low Income Pool program, which reimburses hospitals for unpaid bills. The federal funding will expire at the end of June.

“The pool money was about helping low-income people have access,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told WFSU in January.

“I think we believe an important way to extend that coverage to low-income individuals is what passed in the Affordable Care Act, is this issue of Medicaid expansion.”

Scott’s suit says it’s a case of coercion – Florida must expand Medicaid or lose $2 billion – and that was expressly forbidden by the Supreme Court when it upheld the health law in 2012.

Close to 800,000 Floridians could gain coverage if the state expands Medicaid.

House Appropriations Chief Richard Corcoran recently delivered a 20-minute speech against Medicaid to fellow lawmakers.

“Here’s my message to the Senate: They want us to come dance? We’re not dancing,” Corcoran said. “We’re not dancing this session, we’re not dancing next session, we’re not dancing next summer. We’re not dancing. And if you want to blow up the process because you think you have some right that doesn’t exist? Have at it.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he’s disappointed with the House’s decision: The House didn’t win, the Senate didn’t win and the taxpayers lost. There are a lot of issues that aren’t going to make it, and it’s unfortunate.”

But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says it was the right thing to do: “We’ve made every effort we can to negotiate with the Senate on a budget and at this time they’re standing strong on Medicaid expansion.”

Crisafulli’s top legislative priority, water policy reform, is among the many bills left hanging this session.

“We’ve made every effort we can to negotiate with the Senate on a budget and at this time they’re standing strong on Medicaid expansion.” — House Speaker Steve Crisafulli

Scott tried to pressure the Legislature to the bargaining table to craft a state budget. He threatened to veto Senate priorities, but the Senate remained unmoved.

Now, the one task the Legislature is mandated to do — pass a budget — remains incomplete. Scott has said he will call the Legislature back for a special session to complete the budget.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes WFSU, NPR and Kaiser Health News.