Gov. Rick Scott wants to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the federal health overhaul, including ways to make expanding the Medicaid rolls and setting up online health exchanges more affordable for states with tight budgets.
The request comes after the Obama administration said Monday that states can do a partial Medicaid expansion but that they wouldn't get the three years of 100 percent federal funding provided under the law. Scott had previously requested to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss his concerns that the law could burden state taxpayers.
"Well it's disappointing that Secretary Sebelius would take that position," Scott told reporters Tuesday. "As you know, my goal was to sit down with her, to understand on the exchanges, how we could do what Floridians want - we need lower health care cost, we need to constantly focus on access and quality.
Scott has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, but softened his position after the election, saying he's open to working with federal health officials to find a solution. But he's repeatedly expressed concerns about the potential costs to Florida taxpayers. Now he's one of several Republican governors who recently sent a letter asking the president to meet with them to discuss ways to make health care affordable and accessible.
"We care about those who can't afford their health care. We've got to be able to afford a health care safety net that our citizens are able to pay for," said Scott, a former health care executive.
Florida has two critical decisions to make. Lawmakers must decide whether they will expand Medicaid rolls. Officials estimate close to 900,000 residents could be covered under expanded Medicaid rolls by fiscal year 2020-2021, costing the state $330 million.
They must also choose whether to run their own online health exchange, an online marketplace where residents and small businesses can shop for health care coverage. They can also partner with the federal health officials on the exchange or let the feds run it entirely.
Federal officials extended the deadline for states to decide whether they plan to run their own exchanges to Dec. 15.
But Florida's Legislative session doesn't begin until March, and it seems unlikely the state will run its own exchange because it hasn't done the necessary legwork.
A Senate committee charged with overseeing the implementation of the health law had its first meeting just last week and seemed far from making any decisions.
Sen. Joe Negron reminded the committee that the state will spend about $21 billion on Medicaid this year. Medicaid covers nearly 3 million people - about half are children. Lawmakers say it must be overhauled because it's eating up about 30 percent of the state budget.
If Florida lawmakers decide to fully expand their Medicaid rolls, the Obama administration is offering to absorb the cost for the first three years and pick up 90 percent of the tab after that.
Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured rates and some of the most stringent eligibility requirements in the country for Medicaid. A family of three with income of $11,000 a year makes too much and single residents are not covered.