TALLAHASEE — The Florida House rejected an amendment Thursday that would have accepted tens of billions of federal dollars and provided health coverage to an estimated 1.1 million residents, setting up a standoff between the House and Senate in the final week of the legislative session.
Republican Rep. Mike Fasano sponsored the amendment in hopes of ending a legislative stalemate and extending coverage to hundreds of thousands more Floridians.
His amendment would have brought the House proposal in line with the Senate bill, but the amendment was shot down by a 74-45 vote. That was minutes after he asked his colleagues, “Don't follow the script; follow your hearts.”
Fasano's proposal would have provided health coverage to roughly 1.1 million Floridians, drawing down more than $50 billion in federal funds over the next decade and giving that money to residents to purchase private health insurance. Open enrollment would have begun this fall.
Instead, the House has a plan that would provide health coverage to about 115,000 residents, using $237 million in state funds to give recipients $2,000 a year to choose their own private insurance plans. That measure likely will be passed Friday.
A companion bill by Sen. Joe Negron that uses federal dollars has gained rare support from Gov. Rick Scott and diverse groups including the business community, labor advocates and health care providers.
“People are suffering back home … The governor and I don't agree on many issues but we agree on this one,” Fasano said. “This is the most important issue we will deal with this year … (and) it affects our economy for years to come.”
House Republican leaders have remained adamant about not accepting federal money tied to the Affordable Care Act, worrying federal officials won't make good on their promise to pay 100 percent of the bill. But Fasano said if federal funding ever falls below 90 percent, Healthy Florida would fold, so the state wouldn't be on the hook for the whole thing.
“The federal government will be bankrolling Medicaid expansion with deficit spending. The spending is designed to buy off states for three years until the federal government is ready to start shifting costs back to the state,” Rep. Clay Ingram said.
House Speaker Will Weatherford seemed unconcerned that a decision may not be reached this session, saying earlier this week that the world wouldn't come to an end if they can't reach a compromise and that talks would continue to talk in the offseason. It's too soon to tell whether Gov. Rick Scott would call a special session to discuss the issue.
House Democrats asked colleagues to put politics aside Thursday and find a solution for the sake of working residents who desperately need health care.
“I think the unhealthy, the uninsured, those that need access to quality care most are the ones getting caught up in this ideological war,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
The Obama administration has sought to offer health insurance to more Americans by extending the Medicaid eligibility levels to those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. But the House plan only addresses residents making at or below 100 percent. That's roughly $11,000 a year for a single person and about $19,500 for family of three.
Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, noted the Senate plan would cover roughly 1.1 million residents, and called the House plan, which would cover one-tenth that number, “wholly inadequate.”
“If you really believe in people working and being able to care for themselves, they need some help with health care and you can help them get back to work by helping them get healthy first,” he said.
Several House Democrats pointed out the irony that they were supporting a Senate Republican plan.
“This is the issue of our session; maybe even the issue of our terms. This private insurance plan proposed by Senator Negron is our best compromise,” said Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.
During a sometimes-heated exchange with Fasano, Republican Rep. Matt Hudson repeatedly expressed concerns that there wouldn't be enough doctors and nurses to cover the influx of new patients.
Weatherford and others have said taking federal health care money just contributes to the administration's penchant for deficit spending.
“You can call it whatever you want: It's still Medicaid expansion,” Hudson said of Fasano's proposal. “The state won't have to pay (the federal money) back, but your kids and your grandkids sure will.”
In hopes of keeping their options open, Republican Sen. Aaron Bean proposed a plan similar to the House plan, but Sen. John Thrasher, one of the top ranking Republicans in the Senate, predicted the Senate would not vote on Bean's plan and instead stand fully behind Negron's plan.