Florida State Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican, has proposed using federal funds to provide vouchers for low-income residents to buy private healthcare policies. (Getty Images)
Republican lawmakers in several states are at odds with their GOP governors who want to participate in the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Healthcare Act (“Obamacare”). The program is intended to bring an additional 16 million uninsured people into the healthcare system.
They should take a look at a proposal in the Florida Senate and think about developing their own unique program.
There are many complex issues on both sides in Florida and elsewhere including: impact on safety-net hospitals that serve the indigent; job creation; expanding a big government program, and doubts about whether the feds will keep their part of the bargain.
This analysis, however, is limited to a few basic political observations.
Florida state Sen. Joe Negron, an opponent of Medicaid expansion, is chairman of the powerful Florida Senate Appropriations Committee which, on a unanimous and bipartisan vote, approved Negron’s Medicaid alternative to provide healthcare coverage to working low income uninsured Floridians.
The program, called “Healthy Families,” would be a privatized plan targeting the same group as Obamacare — uninsured individuals making $15,415 a year, or a family of three earning $26,344 — with the federal government paying 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.
Obamacare federal dollars would be used to provide vouchers to nearly one million low income Florida adults who would use them to purchase their own private health insurance policies. In opting out of expanding Medicaid, Negron said:
"We don't want to do it the Washington way. We want to do it the Florida way,"
The proposal requires that recipients have some “skin in the game”— in the form of modest copays for physician and emergency room visits and a portion of premium payments. As he said during his committee’s meeting:
“I want people to say ‘I have health insurance’ NOT ‘I am on Medicaid.’
There is a powerful difference.
One implies ownership — the other dependency!
Florida Governor Rick Scott, who initially opposed Medicaid expansion recently reversed himself and now supports expansion and is open to Negron’s plan.
The Florida Hospital Association (FHA), which had supported Medicaid expansion, said of the Negron proposal:
“ . . . It is a very promising alternative to Medicaid expansion that provides coverage to a million or more working, low income Floridians. We look forward to working with lawmakers and other stakeholders to further develop this innovative approach.”
So, why this discussion?
Given the Republican National Committee’s autopsy report on the November election results and the GOP’s uncaring image among many voter groups, Republican officials, in Florida — and other states — should take notice of the fact that Negron and his GOP colleagues on his committee are on solid political ground.
A January statewide Public Opinion Strategies poll showed that 62 percent of Floridians favored accepting federal money to extend healthcare coverage including voters across the political spectrum: “younger voters (76 percent), self-identified moderates (72 percent), women (69 percent), seniors (63 percent), political independents (61 percent), white women (62 percent). . . ”
Negron has shown Republicans in Florida and other state capitols that it is possible to abide by their convictions and at the same time come up with alternative solutions to assist those in need. Although there may be recommendations for changes in his proposals from his colleagues in the Florida Senate or the Florida House, he should be commended for pointing the way.
Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration as well as the Reagan presidential campaigns and has appeared on many national and local media outlets. Read more reports from Clarence V. McKee — Click Here Now.
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