2013-02-25 09:00:00

Florida Health Care Law Enactment is Not a Done Deal


Florida Governor Rick Scott reversed himself on Wednesday and said his state would expand Medicaid and enact President's health care law. But it is yet to be determined whether the state's legislature will affirm it and officially move forward with expansion. New America Media spoke with Joan Alker, Georgetown University professor and co-director of The Center for Children and Families, an independent, nonpartisan policy and research center whose mission is to expand and improve health coverage for America’s children and families, about what is at stake for Florida and the state's future regarding access to health care.

NAM: There have been several estimates addressing what it may cost Florida to expand its Medicaid program, including the possibility of the state going bankrupt as a result. What do you make of that?

The good news is that some of those estimates have gotten more realistic about the costs, but what’s missing, and what our study looks at is that potentially there are even some savings for Florida’s budget. That’s because uninsured people do get some care today and the state is paying for some of that, but unfortunately what they’re not getting is preventative and primary care, so they end up sicker, bankrupting themselves, and showing up in the emergency room. Our study found that the state could save as much as 100 million dollars a year by accepting the federal money to do the Medicaid expansion. And, as I said, that’s because uninsured people are getting some care, they are just getting it too late, and it’s more expensive care.

You recently presented testimony and information regarding your research at the Senate Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Tallahassee? How do you think that was received?

There has been a lot of politicizing of health reform. Florida was obviously one of the states that sued to prevent health reform from going forward, but I was encouraged that the senators seemed to be taking a serious look at the facts. We’ll see where they go…

Yet it’s been increasingly reported that the majority of Floridians support Medicaid expansion. So what could be causing this disconnect between the state’s voters and politicians?

I think there is still a residual ideological opposition to health reform, and there is still misinformation on what it means. I think that’s a lot of what we’re dealing with. The public is tired of their representatives playing politics and not addressing the real needs of Florida’s families. I think this is a sentiment we see across the country. The voters would like their leaders to roll up their sleeves and address this problem.

What would be at stake if Florida’s Medicaid is not expanded?

Our study estimated that between 800,000 to 1.2 million Floridians could get covered, and Florida ranks 50th with respect to the covering of uninsured adults, and 48th for children. So there are a lot of uninsured folks here, and the federal government is offering to cover the vast majority of the costs of moving forward and giving health coverage to these families. There is so much at stake in Florida because there are so many uninsured people, and the federal money is on the table. It would be a real mistake not to accept that money.

But, again, this begs the widely reported questions about the state losing money if they do expand.

We have a figure in our study that even if you assume they didn’t get any savings, it would still be an increase of 3% in Florida’s budget so that’s a pretty good deal to cover a million people. And that doesn’t include any savings or also the fact that when you bring these federal dollars into the state, they are creating jobs and generating revenues. They are economic stimulus effects.

Florida Governor Rick Scott just announced that he would opt in. What are your thoughts on his decision? And is it possible that the Legislature may not support moving forward on it?

Governor Scott's endorsement was a victory of common sense over ideology, but it is not a done deal in Florida. We expect recommendations from the house and the senate committees the first week in March.

*This article is part of an ongoing NAM coverage on the Affordable Care Act, supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies

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