Healthcare Business News

Fla. governor to expand Medicaid after all

By Melanie Evans
Posted: February 20, 2013 - 7:00 pm ET

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who swiftly rejected Medicaid expansion under health reform after last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed states to do so, called for the state to expand the safety net program for three years, or as long as federal tax dollars cover all the costs.

The Republican governor—one of a number to recently announce they would embrace federal financing for the Medicaid expansion—said the state would use the time to evaluate its options and assess how the increased enrollment affects healthcare costs, access and quality.

“It's a common-sense solution,” Scott said in a news conference announcing his decision. “It's good for those that don't have healthcare right now, and it's good for taxpayers because it's something we can afford today.”

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States may expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to those with income up to 138% of the federal poverty threshold, but last June's Supreme Court decision on the law removed any penalty for states that refuse to expand the program, which is jointly financed by state and federal tax dollars.

Medicaid rolls could expand by 7 million to 13 million in 2014, largely low-income adults without children, under the new eligibility rules, federal officials estimate.

Scott called for a state law to expand Medicaid that would expire in three years, when federal financing for the expansion declines to 95% from 100%. He also called for the law to expire should federal officials fail to cover 100% of costs through 2016, as required under the ACA. With total federal financing, Scott said he could not “in good conscience” reject expansion.

At the end of three years, Scott said the state would not “simply deny” insurance to the newly enrolled, but did notspecify how coverage would continue. “We will evaluate whether services are best provided through the Medicaid program, if the program needs more flexibility, or if some services are better provided in the private market,” he said.

Scott also said the state would not establish a health insurance exchange, another major pillar of the law's push to reduce the number of uninsured. Under the law, federal officials must instead operate the exchange, which serves as an insurance marketplace. Low-income households may receive subsidies to buy insurance in the exchange.

Scott, a vocal critic of the law who previously rejected Medicaid expansion, said he continued to disagree with the law. “It's not an easy choice,” he said, at times sounding defensive. “It is not a white flag of surrender to government-run healthcare.”

Scott praised federal health officials for recent waivers that will allow the state to shift those covered under Medicaid into managed-care plans.

His announcement was applauded by the state's House Democratic leader. “I am pleased that Gov. Scott has, after much delay, endorsed implementation of a major component of the nation's healthcare law by seeking legislative approval of an extension of Medicaid services to Florida's most vulnerable population,” said Perry Thurston Jr., in a statement.

Roughly 3.8 million Floridians lacked insurance in 2011, according to the most-recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, or about 20% of the total population.

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