Governor Does About-Face on Obama’s Health Care Law

Governor Does About-Face on Obama’s Health Care Law

Story tools

A A AResize


Republican governors like Florida’s Rick Scott are slowly realizing that opposing President Barack Obama’s health care law — the Affordable Care Act — may be both political suicide and bad for hundreds of thousands of citizens who lack health care.

If a state accepts, the federal government will pay the full costs of newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries for three years, beginning in 2014. After that, the percentage would eventually drop to 90 percent. If states don’t expand Medicaid, millions of people earning less than the poverty line who aren’t eligible for the program may be left without health insurance.

Enter Governor Rick Scott — Florida’s self-appointed pied piper who scoffed at the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Scott, a former health care executive and multimillionaire, has berated the President and his plan time and time again, vowing in typical tea party fashion that he would never “accept Obamacare in his state,” even describing the health care plan as a “job killer.” Readers may recall that Scott led the charge for a constitutional amendment that aimed to undermine the implementation of the plan. Voters rejected it hands down.

Change of heart or something else?

But then, that was his position two years ago. Today as he prepares for a tough reelection campaign that will almost assuredly pit him against former Florida governor, Charlie Crist — the Republican turned Independent turned Democrat — Scott seems to have finally gotten the memo. During his first run for governor, besides spending millions of his own money to fund his campaign, the novice politician Scott sided with those who were willing to fight the Affordable Care Act. Now Scott, along with the governors of Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and North Dakota, has agreed to expand the Medicaid program in Florida. Other Republicans are studying it too. The shift from their staunch conservatism is in direct contrast to their party’s base that won seats in 2010 by opposing Obama’s health plan, immigration and voting rights.

Rick Scott the chameleon

It’s tough to pinpoint why Scott has suddenly switched teams and decided that the Obama health care plan is a good one and makes sense for Floridians. However, some critics say that given his experience in the health care industry — an industry that is the largest employer in many states — even if Scott should lose in next year’s election, taking federal Medicaid dollars can’t hurt his chances of getting a lucrative position in his former profession.

Here’s what Scott says:

“I think this is a common-sense solution to dealing with this for the next three years where it will give us the time to think about how we can improve the system. The state is obligated to help the poorest and weakest among us. While the federal government is committed to pay 100 percent of the cost, I cannot, in good conscience, deny Floridians the needed access to health care.”

But even with this recent reversal, Scott points out that the Republican-controlled Legislature will ultimately decide whether or not his proposal should be implemented. That seems to be his way of hedging his bets because unlike governors like Arizona’s Jan Brewer who has changed her position and is now pushing legislators to follow suit, Scott seems reluctant to go on the offensive.

Florida legislators offer alternative expansion proposals

Already partisan bickering has erupted in Tallahassee over competing proposals to pass up billions of federal dollars all together or to accept the money but redirect it into private insurance.

In early March, a Senate panel followed its House counterpart and turned down the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the expansion for three years. Two different Medicaid expansion proposals have since emerged in the Florida Senate. The first, sponsored by Senator Joe Negron, wants to offer residents vouchers to purchase private insurance. Scott says Negron’s plan is in line with his desire to help the state’s uninsured while it is 100 percent federally funded and has voiced his support.

Meanwhile, Senator Aaron Bean wants to pass up the free federal dollars and instead use state funds to help residents pay for a basic insurance plan. A House panel is also considering an alternative plan.
No matter what the Legislature decides, Scott will still be required to sign off on the chosen expansion plan. Of course the biggest hurdle will be getting federal permission.

Annie R. Neasman, president and CEO of Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc., located in Liberty City says the Affordable Care Act is good for individuals, families and taxpayers.

“I know a lot of people that have had to file for bankruptcy due to excessive medical bills or had liens put on their homes because they did not have health insurance and then underwent a medical crisis,” she said. “In the long run, it will allow more people to get preventative services rather than be forced to use the emergency room as their sole means of seeing a physician. Many people in the Black community have found that to be their only option. If we can get people to doctors for regular checkups, we can also bring costs down because emergency room visits are far more expensive. As for Governor Scott, I can only go on his word. But his decision to accept the federal money was the right thing to do.”

This article, which previously ran in the Miami Times, is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies' KidsWell Campaign.