Democrats push Governor for health care special session

May 6, 2013

The following article was published in The Florida Current on May 6, 2013:

Democrats push Scott for special session on health care

By James Call

Well, that didn’t take long. Florida Democrats want Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session on health care. Lawmakers concluded the annual spring legislative session Friday without taking advantage of billions of dollars in federal money available to reduce the number of uninsured Floridians.

“Not only did the failure leave more than 1 million uninsured Floridians in the lurch, but it reportedly threatens Florida’s businesses with a whopping $150 million in fines because their employees will be without health care,” Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, wrote in a letter to Scott signed by his caucus members.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Washington would pick up the cost of providing health coverage to all people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level for the first three years. The federal government would continue to pay at least 90 percent of the cost thereafter.

Since Florida did not agree to expand Medicaid under ACA guidelines, individuals can go to an on-line federal exchange to get coverage. If they work for a company with more than 50 full-time employees and qualifies for federal assistance to purchase insurance then the company will be fined $2,000.

There are about 400,000 people in Florida who meet this requirement and represent a potential fine for employers who don’t provide health insurance.  

“The Legislature has done exactly what you said you wouldn’t; it has denied these Floridians access to coverage,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, in a second letter sent to Scott on Monday. “An unconscionable and callous decision by the Legislature — it was also a bad decision for many business owners who could now end up paying tax penalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee.”

Florida has until January to take action to avoid the penalty being levied on businesses. That’s when the ACA provision requiring everyone to have health insurance goes into effect. The Senate has a plan that members are confident meets ACA requirements. It would use federal money to assist people to buy private health insurance. State analysis projects Florida would net $50 billion over 10 years.

The House objects to providing assistance to single, childless adults; a transitory population analysts say for which it is difficult to project a cost. The House would use about $115 million a year to cover people earning up to 100 percent of the FPL.

The chambers were unable to bridge their differences and now a multimillion dollar bill looms for many service-sector businesses that pay low wages and offer no health coverage.

“When it comes to health care it’s not about how quickly you do it. It is about doing it it the right way,” said Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel,  at the conclusion of the session Friday night. “There’s a lot of conversations to be had and I still think the health care debate is going to come back.  It is not going to go away.”

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