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Fla. U-turn: Yes to Obama Medicaid option

Feb. 21, 2013 at 3:30 AM   |   Comments

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Gov. Rick Scott, a sharp critic of President Barack Obama's healthcare law, says he wants Florida to participate in an optional part of the law after all.

The Republican -- who vowed last July never to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's optional Medicaid portion -- did an about-face and told a news conference late Wednesday Florida should accept federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in the state.

"While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost, I cannot in good conscience deny Floridians that needed access to healthcare," Scott said.

"We will support a three-year expansion of the Medicaid program under the new healthcare law as long as the federal government meets their commitment to pay 100 percent of the cost during that time," he said, reading a statement.

His statement can be found at tinyurl.com/Scott-Medicaid.

Scott said he saw "no perfect options'' when it came to the Medicaid expansion.

"To be clear -- our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying healthcare to our citizens," he said, "or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other healthcare reforms."

The Obama healthcare law expands Medicaid eligibility to families with incomes at 133 percent of the poverty level. That means 900,000 to as many as 1.95 million more Floridians could join Medicaid and other state-subsidized health-insurance programs over five years, the state Agency for Health Care Administration estimated last year.

Half the 30 million Americans nationwide expected to gain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act will do so by moving onto Medicaid, beginning Jan. 1.

Medicaid is the nation's largest health program, providing medical services to 56 million people with low incomes and disabilities, while also providing nursing-home aid to elderly people.

Medicaid is normally jointly financed by the federal government and the states, but the optional Medicaid-expansion program will be paid totally by Washington.

Scott said July 2, 2012, when he was one of the most ardent and outspoken GOP opponents of Obama's healthcare law, "Florida will opt out of spending approximately $1.9 billion more taxpayer dollars required to implement a massive entitlement expansion of the Medicaid program."

He'd entered politics in 2009 running national cable TV commercials criticizing the president's plan.

Scott's state led the way in challenging the president's signature legislative accomplishment in a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the constitutionality of most of the law June 28, 2012.

But after Obama's re-election, which secured the Affordable Care Act's political future, Scott changed his stance, he said.

He met several times about the provision with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and said Wednesday he had a new openness to implementing the law.

"I believe in a different approach," Scott told reporters. "But it doesn't matter what I believe. The Supreme Court made its decision. We had an election in the fall and the public made their decision. Now the president's healthcare law is the law."

Scott is the seventh Republican governor to support the Medicaid expansion. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer are among the formerly critical governors now embracing the key pillar of Obama's healthcare law.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia are now on board, and 16 others are deliberating. The remaining 11, all with Republican governors, have said no -- but The Washington Post said observers believe some of them could change their minds.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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