The bid by the owners of Sun Life Stadium to get tax dollars to help pay for renovations was not the most important issue before the just ended legislative session, though it might have looked that way.
The preoccupation over whether to give the billionaire owner of the stadium some $289 million in tax dollars seemed to have overshadowed, at least among South Floridians, the most significant issue before legislators: expansion of Medicaid by using funds available through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the so-called “Obamacare.”
Both proposals died in the House when the Legislature adjourned on Friday. There was little indication why Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, did not bring them to the House floor, even though senators approved the two measures. But there is no doubt why he snubbed Medicaid expansion: partisan politics, pure and simple.
This is the deal that was before the Legislature: The federal government would provide some $50 billion to cover 100 percent of the cost to expand the state’s Medicaid plan for three years, 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. That would allow for an additional 900,000 to 1.1 million Floridians to get health insurance. The cost to the state? Probably $5 billion.
Gov. Rick Scott, who opposed the health care act during his campaign, reversed himself a few months ago, saying expanding Medicaid would be the “compassionate” and “commonsense thing to do.” Still, the House, packed with far right and tea party types, chose instead to pass a lame substitute calling for $237 million in state funds to finance a Medicaid expansion plan covering just 115,000 people. Why this alternative? Because they cannot stand the thought of embracing an Obama initiative.
So, lawmakers, whose first obligation is the good of their constituents, have gone back to their districts to explain to a million Floridians why they will not be allowed to get health insurance.
That cannot be allowed to stand. Gov. Scott pushed his own pet project during the session – getting raises for teachers – and did not use the weight of his office to push back against the House, a majority of whose members, like him, are Republicans. Now it is time for him to make good on that failure, call a special session and exercise the leadership necessary to get past the callousness of some legislators so Medicaid expansion can happen. It is the responsible thing to do.