TALLAHASSEE —The Florida Legislature adjourned today without expanding the state's Medicaid program, passing up more than $50 billion in federal funding and dealing a defeat to Gov. Rick Scott.
And with little fanfare, perhaps the most controversial issue of the session fizzled, leaving roughly 1.1 million Floridians uninsured for now. It was unclear whether Scott will call a special session or if the issue will still be unsettled when the Legislature reconvenes next March.
The Senate had passed a bill supported by Scott, but the House Republican leadership had refused to consider it, so the bill died at adjournment.
Scott glossed over the issue tonight in his end of session speech when he thanked lawmakers for their hard work.
“They focused 100 percent on what's good for Florida families,” he said.
Scott's office did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls about whether he might call a special session.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has opposed the Senate's plan, said late today that he wasn't going to be rushed into passing a health care law. Weatherford, a young and charismatic rising star in the state Republican Party, made headlines early in the session when it was revealed that his family did not have health insurance when he was a child and relied on a type of Medicaid to help pay for cancer treatments for his brother, who died at 13 months of age.
“When it comes to health care, I think it's about getting it right. It's not about how quickly you do it. It's about doing it the right way,” he said.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston said that since Scott's insurance plan didn't pass, the governor should veto the budget or call for a special session.
“There's some low-income hard workers here in the state of Florida who are not benefiting from this budget. That's the big elephant in the room,” Thurston said.
It once seemed obvious that Medicaid expansion wouldn't happen in Florida, as Scott had entered politics in 2009 running national cable TV commercials criticizing the President Barack Obama's health care plan.
But a few months ago, Scott made a dramatic about-face when he announced his support for Medicaid expansion under Obama's Affordable Care Act, calling it the “compassionate” and “common sense” choice since the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the law sometimes called “Obamacare.” But the House and Senate voted against a straight Medicaid expansion early in the session, saying they didn't want to expand an already broken system.
Scott, the Senate, House Democrats, Florida hospitals, health advocates and a diverse mix of business and labor groups all lined up in support of a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Joe Negron that would have drawn down more than $50 billion from the federal government over the next decade and given it to an estimated 1.1 million Floridians to purchase private insurance.
The proposal would have saved the state money, but House Republicans resisted accepting any funding tied to the federal law and instead passed a bill that would use $237 million in state funds to cover about 115,000 residents. The Obama administration has sought to offer health insurance to more Americans by extending the Medicaid eligibility levels to those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. But the House plan only addressed residents making at or below 100 percent. That's roughly $11,000 a year for a single person and about $19,500 for family of three.
Scott slammed that plan, saying it would doubly tax Florida families as they would be paying federal taxes to pay for people in other states but would get no benefit themselves.
With the House and Senate at odds in the final weeks, religious groups, the Florida Hospital Association and the union representing health care workers turned up the heat with television commercials, letters to lawmakers and press conferences.
A commercial by the Service Employees International Union accused several Republican lawmakers of putting politics ahead of working families by blocking tens of billions of federal dollars. The commercials ran in areas of lawmakers who live in vulnerable districts where Obama either won or narrowly lost.
Gridlock over Medicaid expansion eventually brought the Legislative session to a screeching halt Tuesday when angry House Democrats used a procedural move to stall the session and required that all bills be read aloud and in full before they were voted on. Republicans responded by using an “auto reader,” a computer that reads using a synthesized voice, and limiting debate.