Rick Scott trashed the federal stimulus, and then took the money anyway, to balance the state budget. But when it comes to healthcare reform, the governor and the Republican legislature are just saying no — a move more extreme than the right wing governments in Texas, Indiana and even Wisconsin.
How radical is the current government in the state of Florida? This radical:
Take Wisconsin and Indiana, which are parties to Florida’s lawsuit. Governors in both states have signed off on planning for the health care exchanges required by the federal law. In Florida, Scott has not.
Pennsylvania, also part of the lawsuit, has 2,684 residents signed up for a program that provides low-cost health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, who can’t buy coverage anyplace else. Pennsylvania runs its own program with funding from the federal government and has more enrollees than any other state.
In Florida, only 770 people are enrolled in the same plan, and the state has declined to run its own program.
Texas has accepted $276 million for a program that provides health insurance to people over 55 who have retired but aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Much of that money is going to Texas state employees.
Florida, by contrast, has accepted only $15 million for the early retirement program — with local governments taking the money. Scott is planning to accept $37 million for the program, but that was because the payout was agreed to by former Gov. Charlie Crist, officials said.
The issue in Florida isn’t necessarily over the money, it’s the portion of the federal law that requires people to buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. That requirement is to take effect in January 2014.
Florida filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the so-called “individual mandate” provision moments after President Barack Obama signed the act into law in March 2010, arguing that the government can’t force people to buy a product.
Twenty-five states joined the lawsuit, along with the National Federation of Independent Business.
A federal judge in Pensacola ruled in January in favor of Florida and the other plaintiffs, concluding that because the mandate is unconstitutional, the entire law is unconstitutional.
The case is expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Scott has said he has no plans to implement the federal law until after that decision.
With that in mind, he returned a $1 million grant that would have helped pay for a system that would allow consumers to monitor insurance rates.
And the Legislature stiff-armed seven federal grants this year worth more than $17 million available through the health care law.
The rejected money included $2 million for hospice care for children, $8 million for construction of community health centers and a first installment on a five-year, $35.7 million grant through the Money Follows the Person program.
The program, created in 2005 under President George W. Bush, aims to keep elderly and disabled people out of nursing homes by providing home health aides and other services. The grants save states money because Medicaid usually pays if clients stay in nursing homes.
Advocates for the aging are alarmed by the decision to reject the money.
“Florida needs every dollar it can get to delay the growth of nursing home usage,” said Larry Polivka, director of the Claude Pepper Center, a Tallahassee think tank on aging. “This started with Bush. It’s a Republican program, for God’s sake.”
The Legislature also discontinued a federal grant that helped poor people get a break on their Medicare costs. Various programs pay Medicare’s premiums, copayments and deductibles and can save people $1,000 to $3,000 a year. The problem is getting the word out. Many people don’t know they qualify.
Over the past 18 months, the Area Agency on Aging of Pinellas and Pasco counties said it helped 1,400 people apply for the subsidies. Potential savings top $4 million a year, the agency estimates. Without a grant extension, the program will shut down.
Republicans claim it’s about “not being hypocritical” — but again, they took federal stimulus money that to a man they opposed. And Republicans have placed an amendment on the 2012 ballot that would bar laws compelling people to buy health insurance, or employers to provide it. Even if such an amendment were to be approved by voters, it wouldn’t impact the federal law, due to the supremacy clause in the U.S. constitution. In other words, it’s a moot point.
But for millions of Floridians who need healthcare, the refusal to take that federal healthcare money is anything but moot.