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Is Florida Senate rethinking Medicaid expansion?

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida has so far been stubborn about not accepting $50 billion of federal money to expand Medicaid in the state, but the Florida Senate is rethinking that stance.

The proposal passed unanimously out of the committee. News4Jax asked Gov. Rick Scott if he supported the measure, but he was non-committal, saying there was still a lot of time left in this year's session.

It was standing room only in the Florida Senate's health policy meeting. Right at $50 billion of federal health care money was on the line in the form of a Medicaid expansion proposal that could help almost a million low-income Floridians.

"This is something that we need to do, because people are suffering for the lack of adequate affordable quality health care," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

Florida is at risk of losing more than $1 billion of federal low income pool funding. That money goes toward hospitals treating the uninsured or under-insured. That has led to the Senate's proposal of a state-run insurance exchange for low income Floridians -- as long as they work, attend school, or pay premiums.

"We have to look at options to keep our hospitals open," said Sen. Aaron Bean. "A lot of our health care systems that depend on this low income pool money to figure out how we're going to survive providing health care for our most needy and our most vulnerable citizens."

But the expansion proposal has always been a tough sell in the Florida House.

Former Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, who now heads business lobby group Associated Industries of Florida, said he's hoping for an about-face from the other chamber.

"Our view is that the House and the conservative leadership ought to do like Mike Pettis, the conservative governor of Indiana, did -- a consumer-based, choice-based plan," Feeney said.

But not everyone's on board. James Madison Institute president Bob McClure said if the feds are going to pull other health funding, they can just as soon pull this funding down the road.

"They're not reliable for a proven source of funding for the state that's been in place for years," McClure said. "Why would we double down on that and take an additional and count on them to fund an additional $50 billion?"

If the state doesn't accept the proposal it goes toward other states that do expand Medicaid.