WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration snubbed Florida's proposal to extend federal funds for hospitals that treat low-income and uninsured patients, a dispute that has paralyzed the state budget.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell gave Gov. Rick Scott the news when she met with him in Washington on Wednesday. The Republican governor wants the administration to extend $1 billion in low-income pool funds for hospitals, but the federal government wants Florida to expand Medicaid, arguing its more efficient to give people insurance than to pay hospitals for caring for the uninsured retroactively.
Neither side has budged. The gridlock stalled Florida's legislative session, prompting the House to abruptly adjourn three days early last week. Scott and lawmakers had asked the Obama administration to bypass a roughly two-monthlong required public comment and review period and give a preliminary answer on the funds so that lawmakers could agree on a budget when they convene for a special session in June. But Burwell declined.
"I told her that we need federal action right now. The low-income families in our state cannot wait on the federal government any longer," Scott said.
Burwell indirectly responded to Scott's recent lawsuit alleging the federal government is breaking the law by coercing states to expand Medicaid in order to get the hospital funds. She said her decision to grant funding is not dependent on whether a state expands Medicaid.
Eight other states, including Texas, also receive the hospital funds and are closely watching the standoff between Florida and the federal government. Florida's funds are the first to expire on June 30th.
The federal government has pointed out that states will get less money by not expanding Medicaid because the Obama administration will not pay for health care for low-income individuals that would be covered in a Medicaid expansion.
Burwell urged Scott to reconsider, saying "it is an important element to providing access to quality health care and reducing hospital costs that are typically passed on to taxpayers."
Scott told the Obama administration that taking away the LIP money will hurt Florida families, yet the governor refuses to expand Medicaid insurance to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians. The Senate supports expansion and proposed a bill that would eventually allow them to buy private insurance.
Two years ago, when Scott was getting ready to run for re-election, he spoke in support of Medicaid expansion, calling it a compassionate and common sense solution. He's since reversed his position, saying Floridians will have to pay a share of it, and that will mean higher taxes.
The expansion is fully funded by Washington through 2016, and never dips below 90 percent after. That's well above what the federal government pays now for the regular Medicaid population
Scott has repeatedly accused the federal government of abruptly cutting off the hospital funds, yet he offered no backup plan, and the legislative session imploded over the stalemate.
State lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, have criticized the governor for not being as engaged as he should have been considering the severity of the budget dispute. As the House and Senate were frantically trying to come up with an agreement and Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit attempting to force the House to return to work, Scott was at a gas station opening and visiting a giant Ferris wheel in Orlando.
The Obama administration also noted in its statement that Florida had known for well over a year that the funds were ending and were granted an extension last year on the condition it seek alternative funding.
Kelli Kennedy contributed to this report from Miami.