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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Health & Fitness

Tampa business leaders back Medicaid expansion

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TAMPA — Add Tampa business leaders to the contingent that wants 1.1 million more Floridians on the state’s health plan for the poor.

The state House this spring refused to consider a bill accepting $51 billion in federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, a major component of the controversial Affordable Care Act.

Legislators returning to Tallahassee for committee meetings Monday will see a full-court press to reconsider an offer that would add local health care jobs and boost the economy, said Jim Burkhart, president of Tampa General Hospital.

“It’s the law of the land,” Burkhart said Tuesday at a League of Women Voters news conference. “Sit down with us and work with us and let’s work out a solution. We want the money.”

About 11 percent of all net revenue at Tampa General this year will go to cover unpaid bills, mostly from poor, uninsured patients, Burkhart said. Under an expanded Medicaid program, federal money would absorb some of that significant loss, he said.

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce members also will be talking up the economic boost that $51 billion over 10 years would provide, chamber president Bob Rohrlack said. Helping uninsured Floridians get health insurance is an economic issue, not a partisan one, he said.

“We don’t want to beat (legislators) into submission … we want to keep working toward an agreement,” Rohrlack said at Tuesday’s news conference.

The local push for Medicaid expansion reflects the efforts of a coalition of 88 health, political and religious groups organized under the name Health Care for Florida Now. Meetings and public events will continue across the state up to the 2014 session, which is set to convene in March.

The groups are not starting at ground zero. Earlier this year, a Medicaid alternative passed muster in the Senate and with Gov. Rick Scott. But it never reached the House floor. And on Tuesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford restated his opposition.

“The uninsured deserve access to private health care, not more government-run health care,” Weatherford said in a statement. “Florida is not alone in this decision, as 21 other states have decided to not expand Medicaid.”

There are about 3.8 million uninsured Floridians today. While many will be eligible to shop for plans on the federal health care exchange starting Oct. 1, some who fall under poverty guidelines will be without any access to coverage.

That includes many of the estimated 1.1 million residents who would be eligible under expanded income guidelines for Medicaid.

Burkhart, standing in front of a phalanx of signs saying “Yes for Medicaid Expansion,” steered clear of naming the program that some legislators disdain as an expensive entitlement program.

Instead, it’s better to focus on creating a program that provides health coverage to uninsured Floridians, he said.

“If legislators decide to not expand Medicaid, that’s OK,” he said. “We’re willing to listen to any proposal that brings $51 billion to Florida.”

mshedden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7365

Twitter: @MaryShedden

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