Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, backed by the NAACP and organized labor, urged Republican legislators Friday to find some way to use billions in federal money for expanding Florida's Medicaid program to provide health insurance for more than 1 million poor people.
“This is about saving lives,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, the Tampa Democrat who chairs the 25-member caucus, said at a news conference in the Capitol.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican, has opposed Gov. Rick Scott's reluctant acceptance of Medicaid expansion – a policy reversal by the governor that sent shock waves through his conservative Republican base.
But this week, the powerful speaker relented slightly, saying he would not rule out expansion but remains skeptical the federal government will keep promises to fully fund it through at least three years.
The Senate, meanwhile, has two alternatives awaiting committee action in the second half of the 2013 session, which is set to adjourn May 3.
One is by Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and would create a state-based health insurance program using federal money through the existing Healthy Kids program. An alternative by Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, would subsidize health care options for the poor and uninsured but would not qualify for federal funding.
Advocates of the federal Affordable Care Act, which both sides now refer to as Obamacare, contend there is about $55 billion in federal money at stake over the next 10 years and that Florida would be giving that money to other states or other federal programs if it skips Medicaid expansion.
“It's all a work in progress,” said Joyner. “At the end of the day, we want Floridians covered. Medicaid by any other name is still Medicaid, just a shift in semantics. The question is, will we maximize the dollars coming in?”
Another member of the Black Caucus, St. Petersburg Rep. Darryl Rouson, said at least the Senate has something on the table. He said Weatherford and other House Republican leaders should show their cards with just four weeks left in the 60-day session.
“It's hard to attack what's not there, hard to work on something that's invisible,” said Rouson, a Democrat. “At least the Senate has two plans, it's on the table…. The hour is late, the motor is cranked up in the other chamber, and we need to join them in getting something done.”
Monica Russo of the Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents hospital workers, noted that state legislators and other elected officials have cheap health insurance provided by the taxpayers.
By comparison, top state managers pay $8.24 a month for single coverage or $30 for family insurance and rank-and-file state workers pay $50 per month for individuals and $180 for family insurance. Scott proposes raising what top managers pay.
“There are folks in this building who are enjoying taxpayer-subsidized health care,” Russo said. “It's time for them to stop being hypocritical.”