Fla. Senators to discuss Medicaid expansion

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A Florida Senate committee will discuss Medicaid expansion under the federal health overhaul to offer insurance to an estimated 900,000 low-income residents.

Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Research Associate Professor Joan Alker says if Florida does not expand Medicaid, it will create a coverage gap for those who earn too little to qualify for tax credits to buy insurance from the online exchange but too much to qualify for Medicaid coverage under the state's low income guidelines.

She also noted a decision not to expand Medicaid will have a substantial indirect impact on the state's health care providers, hospitals and overall economy.

"It would be much better to give these people preventative and primary care upfront," Alker said. "They won't have to bankrupt themselves and hopefully they won't get as sick and wind up in the hospital."

She testified before the committee in Tallahassee on Monday.

The savings could be as high as $100 million a year. The predication is based on the expansion offsetting other state costs like mental heath services, substance abuse programs and emergency room visits.

"We are spending some taxpayer dollars on these folks already, so we think the state should take a careful look at its budget, see where these costs are today, pick up the federal dollars to cover those folks primarily at federal cost and give them better care on the bargain," Alker said.

The study fingers prevention as the main source of the costs savings. Still opponents aren't ready to bite just yet. They say even though Florida may save money, the federal government will still have to borrow to pay the state.

Gov. Rick Scott has expressed concerns about the high cost of Medicaid expansion to Florida taxpayers.

Florida has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the nation. Counting children, there are nearly 4 million people in the state without coverage.

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