GOP Failure to Expand Medicaid to Cost Florida Business Millions, Study Finds

We've already written about how, according to a recent study, the Florida Legislature's failure to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 1.27 million low-income Floridians will result in as many as six otherwise avoidable deaths a day in the Sunshine State.

Now we've come across another study about the consequences of that failure, this one about its impact on Florida business, and it's another doozy -- as much as $250 million in tax penalties per year.

See also: Florida Dems: GOP Failure to Expand Medicaid Equals Six Deaths a Day

The Medicaid expansion refusal is the doing of one man: GOP Speaker of the House Will Weatherford.

At one point last year, just about every political creature in God's Creation, Florida Division -- including Rick Scott and business groups like Associated Industries and the Florida Chamber of Commerce -- had lined up in support of a state Senate bill that would have brought the state more than $50 billion in federal grants (that is, money Florida taxpayers have sent to Washington) in the next decade to expand Medicaid and help economically deprived Floridians. No-brainer, right?

Not according to Weatherford, who used his power to put the kibosh on the deal. He argued that Medicaid sucks, the feds couldn't be trusted to deliver the cash, Florida was already doing plenty, and that Medicaid sucks (never mind his own family relied on it when times were hard). In the Florida House, what the speaker doesn't want, the people don't get. Unless they're his fans in the Tea Party. (Weatherford has failed to respond to New Times' many requests for comment.)

As if that "cold-hearted, politically motivated, ideological obstructionism" weren't bad enough, now comes a study from experts at Jackson Hewitt, the nation's second-largest tax preparation service, who found that:

States that do not expand Medicaid for adults leave their large employers exposed to higher employer "shared responsibility" tax penalties under the ACA.

The federal tax penalties to employers could total $1.03 billion to $1.55 billion each year in the 25 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid for adults...

Any projections of the "net" costs of Medicaid expansions should also reflect the very real costs of the shared responsibility tax penalties to employers in states that do not expand Medicaid.

What it comes down to is that companies with 50 or more full-time employees must partially reimburse the feds for federal tax credits to the working poor -- that is, working poor who would have instead gotten Medicaid if their states had expanded Medicaid. (Here's a good explanation of the details of "shared responsibility," from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.)

Jackson Hewitt put the number of such Florida working poor at 84,000 and the employer penalties at $2,000 to $3,000 per worker. Result: anywhere from $169 million to $250 million annually. Bad news for the good folks at the Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries, and entirely avoidable. (We'll be interested to see what Weatherford does to make it up to them.)

In the meantime, Florida Democrats have seized on the Jackson Hewitt study as another cudgel with which to beat the GOP in this fall's elections. In a text message to New Times, West Palm Beach Rep. Mark Pafford, who will lead House Dems next year, said this:

Extension of health care to Florida's poorest residents means saving 6 lives a day, everyday. For businesses out there, failure to provide that same health care could mean higher taxes. Particularly in the Florida House and Governor's mansion, saying "No" to Medicaid expansion makes me scratch my head. Since when did saving lives and lowering taxes become a bad thing?

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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