State Representative Perry Thurston: Foot-dragging on Medicaid will cost state money and lives

Mar 15, 2013

The following article was published in the The Florida Current on March 15, 2013:

Thurston:  Foot-dragging on Medicaid will cost state money and lives

By James Call

Across the country, state leaders are debating whether to expand Medicaid as called for under the federal Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama’s health care law said it was up to the states whether to expand the federal-state health care program for the poor.

In Florida what is at stake is billions of dollars in federal subsidies that would flow into the health care industry. A Florida Hospital Association study found that the more than $50 billion expected during the first decade of the ACA would support an additional 52,000 jobs in the state.

House and Senate select committees on the ACA have rejected an expansion of Medicaid. Instead, both chambers are floating different ideas that would extend coverage to an estimated one million people who are uninsured and still qualify for the federal subsidies. However, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston called a news conference Friday to say the House and Senate’s lack of vision and foot-dragging could harm the state’s economy and working Floridians without health insurance.

“We are behind the eight ball in terms of time,” said Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale. “Any time that we lose we are talking about another year of individuals who need the services are not getting it, and as the study from the New England Journal of Medicine indicated, by expanding coverage we will save the lives of Floridians over and above 5,000 annually.”

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is the chairman of the Senate select committee studying ACA and has suggested a voucher system for the new Medicaid recipients modeled after the Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which helps low-income parents select private health plans for their children. Parents pay premiums and copays based on their income. The state may offer money to help families pay part of the premiums.

His counterpart in the House, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has suggested maybe including private insurance plans is the way to go.

It’s not clear whether either idea would win federal approval but Washington has indicated it would be flexible when reviewing proposals from the states. The federal government has not set a deadline for states to decide on expansion but the ACA goes into effect January.

Friday, Thurston laid out the principle Democrats want included in any proposal that emerges from the Legislature. Consistent with the ACA, Democrats want a Florida plan that extends coverage to people under the age of 65 who have an income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, meets the requirements to qualify for all federal funds, and avoids creating a two-tiered health care system.

“You can call it whatever you want to call it,” Thurston said. “As long as it helps working Floridians, those who are not covered under current Medicaid … and bring the total ($52 billion) contemplated by state economists, we are all for it.”

Republican lawmakers say they want an alternative to expansion because they say Medicaid is a broken program and they fear the federal government will not keep its promise to pay for the new enrollees.

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