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Florida House Panel Opposes Medicaid Expansion

The Florida House of Representatives has signaled it won’t go along with Gov. Rick Scott to expand Medicaid coverage to more than a million low-income Floridians under the Affordable Care Act. The party-line vote came Monday shortly after a joint committee hearing on the law’s financial impact on the state.

Under the federal health care law, the state has the option to expand the Medicaid program, with the federal government picking up the tab for the first three years. That support would fall to 90 percent in later years.

Scott had signaled a week ago that he would support an expansion of Medicaid after the federal government approved the state’s plan to privatize the program. It was a major reversal coming from one of the health law’s staunchest Republican critics.  But in a meeting today, the House’s Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act said the state can’t rely on promises from the federal government that it might be unable to keep.

“What the federal government gives, it can take away,” said state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.

The vote against the Medicaid expansion was along party lines, with 10 Republicans voting no and five Democrats voting in favor of the expansion. Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who supports the expansion, says Florida is one of the states that needs it most.

“We’re at the bottom of the barrel for people who need these services,” said Thurston.

Earlier in the day, state economist Amy Baker told a joint meeting of the House and Senate PPACA committees that the state could see gains in employment, wages and state revenues from the expansion. But Baker also presented worst-case scenarios that projected decreases in personal income and lower state revenues.

Meanwhile, the Senate select committee has postponed a meeting originally set for later today. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, who leads that committee, is the architect of the Medicaid managed care program which was tentatively approved by the federal government last month.

“Whether senators support or oppose expansion, the choice comes with far-reaching consequences for individuals, health care providers, and the entire state,” Negron said in a statement. “The additional time between today and our next meeting will allow senators to review and study these important issues to ensure that our final decisions and recommendations receive the thoughtful and careful consideration they deserve.”

Monday’s vote sets up a possible split-legislature scenario in which Medicaid expansion is supported by the Senate and opposed by the House, which is the more conservative chamber in Florida. Both chambers of the legislature have Republican majorities.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes WFSU, NPR and Kaiser Health News.