TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — An aide to Florida Gov. Rick Scott is defending the Republican's opposition to expanding Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul to cover another million state residents, even though the federal government would pick up most of the initial costs.
Spokesman Brian Burgess on Thursday said the state cannot afford the millions it would take to attract billions in federal funding every year that Florida is eligible to receive through the expansion. The governor, a former hospital chain executive, has been a leading opponent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Burgess also said the state has other programs to help low-income people who don't qualify for Medicaid.
"We have to figure out how to pay if we are going to do this, and we don't see a way," Burgess said.
He was reacting to preliminary figures reviewed this week by state economists. They show turning down the expansion would cost Florida nearly $40 billion in federal money to save at most $2.5 billion in state funds over 10 years.
"Where does it come out of?" Burgess asked. "What programs get sacrificed?"
The expansion could eventually cover in excess of 1 million more Floridians, but the economists don't believe all those eligible will participate. They are revising the dollar estimates downward, but Burgess said Scott is worried the costs, instead, will increase in the future.
Critics say Scott is being penny-wise and pound-foolish to oppose adding billions in federal money to Florida's economy. Many Republican governors favor the repeal of what they call "Obamacare."
Among those critical of Scott's stance are the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, a liberal think tank in Tallahassee. The center released a report this week disputing Scott's claim that Florida's Medicaid program has been growing more than three times as fast as the state's general revenue.
It says Scott's statistic is inflated due to the recession and contrived to make any Medicaid growth appear as extreme as possible.
"The net cost to the state of extending Medicaid coverage to more than a million of the lowest-income, uninsured Floridians would be little to nothing," the report concludes. It says that's particularly the case when factoring in savings to be gained from reducing uncompensated care that uninsured patients receive in emergency rooms.
Burgess also said Scott erred by claiming to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren last month that the expansion would cost Florida taxpayers $1.9 billion a year. He said Scott meant to say $1.9 billion from 2013 to 2020.