Though House Speaker Will Weatherford and his Republican colleagues show absolutely no inclination to take a second look at expanding Medicaid, representatives from the Florida League of Women Voters (LWV), Tampa General Hospital, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce renewed their call today for the state to accept the federal money.
Actually, not all of them did.
"It doesn't have to be Medicaid that we expand," said Jim Burkhart, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. "It needs to be health care coverage that we expand. If our legislators choose not to use the current Medicaid system, that's okay."
He was referring to how Florida state Sen. Joe Negron came up with his own alternative to Obamacare that would offer 1 million low-income, uninsured Florida citizens a basic plan tied to a health-reimbursement account. Negron said he was confident that the federal government would offer a waiver to his plan.
But the Florida House didn't go for it.
"This will not take care of all Floridians that are uncovered but it will cover a large portion of those Floridians that are uncovered, and certainly the ones who are the most needy," Burkhart said of Medicaid expansion.
The news conference was organized by the LWV and held at at Jackson's Bistro on Harbour Island in Tampa. LWV President Deirdre Macnab said her members are continuing to lobby state legislators. "We will not give up," she insisted.
Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, said he's met with members of the state's legislative delegation, including Weatherford. "We're working with them in an educated fashion to put our case in front of them," he said, insisting that the Chamber isn't about to give up on advocating for Medicaid expansion.
When asked if he had received any push back from his members about his high profile advocacy for Obamacare, Rohrlack said perhaps a little, but emphasized that "it's the law of the land. We need to find out how to work with it."
In his prepared remarks, Rohrlack placed a strong emphasis on the fact that the $51 billion that Florida would get from the federal government for Medicaid expansion would result in 120,000 jobs for Florida over the next decade, and more than 7,000 in Hillsborough County.
Dr. John Petrila, chair of USF's Department of Health Policy and Management, issued a series of statistics to refute stereotypes about who lacks access to care these days. He said that 80 percent of uninsured Floridians work, and 60 percent of uninsured Floridians have family members who work full time. "Most people who lack insurance work," he said.
Petrila also praised Sen. Negron's plan, saying it was all about getting more people on the insurance rolls. "Whether it turns out to be Medicaid expansion or not is far less important I think than expanding the base of people on insurance in one sort or another. Whether we like it or not, much of that will be through public sources of funding."
Many Florida Republicans in Tallahassee oppose Medicaid expansion because they don't think the federal government can be trusted to keep up its end of the bargain. Tampa General's Jim Burkhart said their argument should be respected, which is why language could or should be added to the agreement that if something changes, "then everybody has to realize that we have to change the program at that time." But he said that legislators needed to work through "that fear" so the medically needy can receive help.