In between the proverbial dog and the fire hydrant.”
That’s Florida’s uncomfortable situation regarding $1.3 billion in hospital money that is in flux, according to state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, the influential chairman of the powerful Florida Senate Appropriations Committee.
Whatever the outcome of this difficult dilemma, Florida’s leaders must rely on the same prudent, conservative principles they used to guide our state through challenging budget shortfalls in recent years.
While the two chambers of the Legislature are looking at different methods, we should all remain optimistic that they will find an appropriate, reasonable answer.
For years the federal government has provided funding to cover some of the uncompensated costs hospitals incur to provide care to uninsured Floridians. But now the government is planning to withhold that money, reasoning that the Affordable Care Act means people should have coverage from either private insurers or Medicaid.
Some say the solution is for Florida to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but the conservative Florida House is standing on principle in rejecting that approach. The Senate is taking a pragmatic view, exploring the expansion option to address the budget hole that would be created by the disappearance of the federal funds.
Texas recently was granted federal funding to care for uninsured residents, without expanding its Medicaid program. That’s why influential Florida House budget chairman Richard Corcoran — the next speaker — believes the federal government is bluffing in its dealings with Florida. So much is uncertain, and whispers of a special session are being heard in Tallahassee.
On top of all this, the King vs. Burwell case just argued at the U.S. Supreme Court threatens to pull the plug on 1.6 million Florida health insurance policies bought under the Obamacare federal exchange.
One thing is certain: If the federal government withholds the hospital money, and then another 1.6 million people suddenly become uninsured, a deep black hole will open in the state budget — at the exact moment a massive number of Floridians find themselves in need of service.
It would be a perfect storm, with a very imperfect outcome.
Gov. Rick Scott believes the federal government should be the one providing a responsible backup plan. After all, it’s a federal law that is creating this crisis. In response, the feds are silent.
It has been years since lawmakers faced a budget challenge like the one that’s approaching related to health care.
The Legislature should consider backup plans to deal with this situation, whatever happens with the federal government and Supreme Court.
There are signs of this happening. The Senate is considering a proposal (SPB 7044) to create a Florida-run private insurance exchange. The legislation requires qualified participants to pay monthly premiums, and they must either work or go to school.
I’m confident lawmakers are up to this test. Our lawmakers have stepped up to huge challenges in the past. If the federal government continues to ignore its responsibility, I am confident the Florida Legislature will again show courageous leadership to craft a Florida-based solution that meets the specific needs of our people.
Deb Tamargo is a former state representative from Tampa. She is chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.—Written by Deb Tamargo, former Florida state representative and current chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, and originally published in The Tampa Tribune on March 22, 2015.