By GARY FINEOUT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Key Republicans on Tuesday asserted that the administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott was playing politics in a continuing fight over health care that has already derailed one legislative session this year.
Scott, who has changed his stance on whether to expand Medicaid coverage twice now, is opposed to a plan pushed by Senate Republicans that would use federal money to provide private insurance to low-income Floridians.
But senators were upset that this week top officials in the agency that oversees the state-federal program came out with sharp criticism of the Senate proposal. They grilled Florida’s Medicaid director for more than an hour over his analysis that contended the plan may only wind up providing coverage to a “sliver” of the 800,000 the proposal was designed to help.
Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and Senate budget chief, called Deputy Secretary Justin Senior “disingenuous” at one point and said “neither your agency nor boss have been helpful in this process at all.” He and other senators pointed out that Senior’s analysis contradicted one drawn up by the state’s main economist.
Senators were also frustrated that no one from the Agency for Health Care Administration showed up until hours after they were first asked. Sen. Jack Latvala called it a sign of disrespect for the Senate, while Lee said that agency officials knew that the Senate was considering a far-reaching proposal. Senior apologized and maintained he did not get asked to attend the meeting until Tuesday morning.
Legislators are back in town for a special session during which they are expected to pass a new state budget. This year’s regular session ended abruptly in late April due to the disagreement over health care and health care spending. State government will shut down in July if lawmakers don’t pass a new budget.
House Republicans remain firmly opposed to the Senate plan because it relies on federal money that is linked to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Senate Republicans insist it is a “free-market” plan and not traditional Medicaid expansion.
The Senate is expected to vote in favor of the proposal this week but it is likely to be voted down by the House.
The budget stalemate was sparked by the pending expiration this summer of more than $1 billion in supplemental federal aid to hospitals.
The governor is suing the Obama administration over the matter, alleging it is withholding the federal hospital funds hostage because Florida is not expanding Medicaid. Federal health officials have since agreed to extend the hospital funds for two more years, but will only contribute half the amount this year and will drop funding to $600 million the following year.
The Obama administration responded to Scott’s lawsuit arguing that Florida has known for well over a year that the hospital funds were ending and stressing that the funds may be extended regardless of Florida’s decision to expand Medicaid, according to court documents filed late Monday. The administration called the lawsuit “baseless” and also criticized Florida for waiting until the last minute to file its proposal.
The filing also states a top federal official told Scott in a face-to-face meeting in early May that the renewal of the hospital money does not depend on Medicaid expansion.