By RICK STONE
March 13, 2013
Burdened with the expense of medical care for more than a million uninsured Floridians, the Florida Hospital Association isn't ready to accept that Medicaid won't be expanded in Florida under Obamacare.
Scarcely a day after a Florida Senate Select Committee voted down the Medicaid plan, the association had mobilized healthcare providers and patients under the banner "The Florida Remedy" to make their case public.
“We’re here because Florida needs a remedy,” said Erin Ennis, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Board member at a news conference on the steps of the old capitol building. “Providing uninsured Floridians with access to health care coverage will encourage a healthier Florida – while also creating thousands of jobs.”
Nurses came to the microphones with anecdotes of patients whose lives were ruined because their lack of insurance forced them to ignore symptoms. Lynette Johnson, who works at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, told of a 42-year-old constriction worker who had suffered with a stomach ache for more than a year.
"If he would have had access to health care sooner, he would not have lost a large portion of his bowel and now winds up with a colostomy," she said.
The hospital association is arguing that expanding Medicaid would create jobs in Florida and lead to a healthier and more productive workforce.
And the arguments led at least one dissident Republican to stand with them on Tuesday. State Rep. Mike Fasano of Pasco County said legislators were letting a major opportunity slip through their fingers.
"To hear those in both chambers say we are going to come up with an alternative, ladies and gentlemen, that's a cop out," he said. "We should have been working on this for the last two years and instead, all of a sudden, now with 55 days to go (in the legislative session), they are looking for an alternative way of covering many people in the state of Florida.”
During Monday's Senate Select Committee meeting, chairman Joe Negron said there may be a way to capture the federal Medicaid expansion money to use not on Medicaid but on subsidizing health policies for the uninsured. His plan calls for using the Florida Healthy Kids program as the template for the plan which would involve co-pays and other means to help recover costs.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.
Refusing to participate, said Miami Beach Mount Sinai Medical Center CEO Steven D. Sonenreich, would be leaving free money on the table.
"We send billions of dollars to the federal government in support of the Medicaid program," Sonenreich said. "It simply makes sense for us to participate in Medicaid expansion."
But Sonnenreich said Negron's plan may be worth exploring as an alternative means to covering the uninsured and relieving state hospitals of some of the costs of unreimbursed medical care.