Heartened by Obamacare's hitting the 7 million enrollment mark needed to make the system work, Florida Democrats are making a renewed push for a key element of the program, Medicaid expansion. It is likely to be a major issue in the fall elections.
"We're losing out on seven to ten million dollars a day, tax money sent to the federal government that other states will now get," Fort Lauderdale Rep. Perry Thurston, House minority leader, told New Times in a phone interview yesterday. "It was rejected by the Republican leadership on purely ideological grounds."
West Palm Beach Rep. Mark Pafford, next in line for Thurston's post, was equally fervent in a phone interview and on social media. "The speaker's stance was really tragic," Pafford said, referring to GOP House chieftain Will Weatherford. "It may be responsible for the deaths of as many as six Floridians a day. It's a horrible thing to live with."
That "six deaths a day" number has been making the rounds nationally and is based on a study written by researchers from Harvard and the City University of New York. They estimated Florida would avoid at least 1,158 deaths and as many as 2,221 deaths annually if it expanded Medicaid as contemplated by the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, as initially enacted.
(UPDATE: The study has been vetted by Politifact, which found no expert who would say its conclusions are fundamentally untrue. Politifact rated the "six deaths" claim a "half-truth" but whatever the untrue part is, it is not the assertion that failure to expand Medicaid will increase morbidity and mortality in Florida. That was undisputed.)
The other key number involved in Medicaid expansion is much bigger: 50,000,000,000. That's how many federal dollars would have flowed to Florida over the next ten years if the state had instituted the expansion. The GOP-controlled House turned its back on the money last year after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of that part of the ACA.
Gov. Rick Scott has flip-flopped on the issue more times than a pancake house, opposing expansion, then speaking out for it, but ultimately standing back while his party sank it in the House. "The governor has tremendous power but was silent," Pafford said. "Was he afraid to lose face?"
Weatherford last fall called Medicaid "one of the worst forms of insurance you can get in America." This even though his own family benefited from the program to the tune of 100 large. (UPDATE: We have tried repeatedly to reach Weatherford for comment. No reply.)
Charlie Crist, at this point the likely Democratic candidate for governor, has also picked up on the "six deaths a day" meme, slamming Scott on the issue. "He didn't even try," Crist told NBC news. "That means that six people in Florida die every day... It's not hard to figure out. If people are sick and they're not getting health care, they usually get even sicker. Or they die."
Democratic efforts to enact Medicaid expansion were bottled up again in the Legislature last month. Greatly outnumbered, House Dems could do little more than vote no on the first version of the state budget, a symbolic gesture.
"Florida's Obamacare enrollment numbers should go hand-in-hand with Medicaid expansion," Pafford said. "I hope it becomes an organized effort."
"Voting against the budget was the least we could do to express our disgust," Thurston said. "Democrats now should realize that Obamacare is something to embrace. Medicaid expansion is the next logical step."
Fire Ant — an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting — covers public affairs and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.