TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - When Florida Gov. Rick Scott took to the airwaves to criticize President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, he said that it would cost Florida taxpayers $1.9 billion a year.
"We can't pay for that," Scott told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.
But it turns out that he overstated the costs while explaining that despite a U.S Supreme Court ruling on the overhaul, the state would not carry out certain portions of the law, including expanding Medicaid coverage to those just above the poverty level. The court made it clear that Congress could not penalize states that failed to expand Medicaid.
The Republican governor used estimates combining both the federal and state costs -- as well as increased payments to doctors unconnected to any decision the state makes. An analysis prepared by the main state agency that oversees Medicaid shows that Florida's estimated share of costs would grow from $121 million in 2013 to $1.47 billion a year a decade from now.
The $1.9 billion yearly figure was also included in a press release sent out by the governor's office on Sunday saying the state would save that much money by refusing to expand Medicaid.
The governor's press office acknowledged the overstated figure on Monday, and by Tuesday, Scott himself had dropped the annual figure from his talking points.
"It will cost billions of dollars," he said during an interview with America's Radio News Network.
"There's a wide range of what this is going to cost," Scott said noting that another analysis that showed the state cost over five years was $1.2 billion to $2.5 billion
Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Scott, said even if the governor did not use the right numbers that Scott is concerned that the cost will continue to increase and that there will be "strings attached" if the state goes along with the expansion.
"We have yet to hear a number that's good news for the state," said Burgess. "They are substantially higher than what the state can afford."
Medicaid is a $21 billion safety net program for the poor in Florida and currently the federal government picks up about 58 percent of the cost.
President Obama's health care law called for states in 2014 to expand eligibility of Medicaid to those making up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or $29,326 for a family of four in Florida. The changes would also require adding people who are below the poverty level but not eligible for Medicaid such as childless adults.
While estimates vary, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has concluded that as many as 1.95 million more people would join Medicaid and other state-subsidized health insurance programs over the next five years.
The Medicaid expansion would not cost the state anything until 2017 - although AHCA estimates that the state would bear increased costs because people already eligible for Medicaid - and therefore paid under the traditional federal-state match - would start joining the program. AHCA also estimates that people currently purchasing private insurance would drop it and switch to Medicaid.
While some groups contend the state's figures are "hyper-inflated," AHCA estimates that the overall cost to the state due to the Medicaid expansion and other insurance changes would be $2.4 billion between 2013 and 2018 with the federal government picking up nearly $26 billion.
Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said his group hopes that state officials consider seriously going ahead with the expansion since it would cover about half of the Floridians who now do not health insurance.
"I think any way you analyze the Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid, it's a very good investment on the state of Florida whereby for every dollar you put in you get 9 dollars of federal money," Carvalho said.
So far Florida's legislative leaders have not ruled out the Medicaid expansion. While Scott's opposition would likely scuttle any effort state legislators could still authorize it and send it to the governor.
"There's no lack of opposition to Obamacare among Republican leadership in the Senate," said incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. " ... But we are trying to understand all the options."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.