Fla. House speaker criticizes Medicaid expansion

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford says expanding Medicaid coverage is a social experiment doomed to fail.

Weatherford opened the annual session of the Florida Legislature with a speech that criticized extending health insurance coverage to roughly 1 million Floridians.

"I believe it forces Florida to expand a broken system that we have been battling Washington to fix, and I believe it will ultimately drive up the cost of health care," Weatherford said.  "This inflexible plan, thrust upon us by the federal government, is not aimed at strengthening the safety net.  It pushes a social ideology at the expense of our future."

Weatherford empathized with those who cannot afford health insurance, recalling his parent's struggles when his brother Peter fought and lost a battle with cancer.  But he said the federal approach "crosses the line of the proper role of government" and is destined to fail.

Weatherford's stance puts him at odds with Gov. Rick Scott who supports expanding the program for three years.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, countered that the Medicaid expansion would save lives.

"Expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act is not just an achievable approach to ending Florida's problem of a vast uninsured populace," Thurston said in a response taped for the Florida Channel. "It's also a means of accelerating Florida's economic recovery to restore our shared prosperity."

Weatherford during his speech also pledged to toughen the state's ethics laws and make changes to prevent a repeat of last fall's elections where some voters spent hours waiting in line.

He also vowed to pass a law that would grant in-state tuition rates to the children of immigrants who are in the country illegally. A federal court last fall ruled that charging higher tuition to those students violated their equal protection rights.

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