Deadline looming to expand Medicaid


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There's a deadline looming for state lawmakers to come up with an agreement to expand Medicaid.

The 2013 legislative session ends Friday. If session ends without a deal, state lawmakers could return in the fall to try again.

For months, lobbyists, unions and activists have been trying to convince state lawmakers to expand the entitlement. The expansion would extend coverage to 1.2 million Floridians and bring an estimated $51 billion into the state's economy.

"It would be good for the people of Florida, good for Florida businesses and good for the state," said Bruce Ruben, of the Florida Hospital Association.

Ruben came out early in favor of expanding Medicaid. Ruben is joined by the governor, the Senate and thousands of health care professionals.

"There are no groups down here who are opposed to it. It's only become a political football," he said. "So what we hope is to see that resolved in these last few days of the legislative session."

The lone holdout is House Speaker Will Weatherford. Activists have less than a week to change his mind.

About 50 people representing more than half a dozen health care groups lined up in front of the Florida House on Monday. They say they'll be there until the issue is decided or the session ends.

"I am one of the ones that's fighting not just for me, but for my family, my children, my people in the facility that their coverage has been cut," health care worker Vera Nelson said. "I'm speaking for the uncovered."

"People are going to be healthier because they do have coverage, so they won't be so afraid to go and get the care they need," retired health care worker Toni Rosenberg said.

If session ends without a deal, that doesn't mean the fight is over. Lawmakers could come back in special session to expand Medicaid.

"So I think anything is possible. There is plenty of time," Senate President Don Gaetz said.

Most involved would rather see a deal by Friday.

Both chambers have passed plans to expand coverage, but the House's version doesn't use any of the money offered by the federal government and only covers an extra 115,000 people compared to more than a million in the Senate.