Fire Ant tries to be charitable in assessing the Tea Party. Confused, fearful people in a confusing, frightening age, they're mere pawns in the games of the rich and powerful. But when organized stupidity denies medical care to people in need, stupidity must be called to account.
Take the Palm Beach County Tea Party (please). "Critical Action on Medicaid Needed!" was the subject of a recent email from their president, Mike "Yours in Liberty" Riordan. Brimming with ideological posturing and typographical errors, it explained that two proposals were all that remained of the Legislature's debates on how to respond to the federal Affordable Health Care Act, AKA. Obamacare. "The dust has settled," Riordan wrote, and now it's either a plan offered by State Sen. Joe Negron or "[Florida House Speaker] Will Weatherford's plan."
Palm City Republican Negron's plan is a face-saving measure. Obamacare includes an offer of $51 billion to Florida to expand state Medicaid coverage to include 1 million of our citizens who are currently without health-care insurance. Negron proposes we take the money and use it to expand coverage under Florida's Healthy Kids program, not Medicaid, allowing the GOP-dominated Legislature to take the money and spurn the label. Take that, you secret Muslim Marxist swine!
That's not good enough for the Tea Party, though. No, no, no. According to Riordan:
The issue of insuring uninsured Americans is not going away. We do not oppose a sensible plan/bill that is right for Florida.
We have written at length about our opposition to Senator Negron's plan. Here are the reasons why:
1. Negron's plan requires the federal money for its funding, but puts that money into "private insurance" programs instead of Medicaid.
2. Kathleen Sebelius have made it clear that the federal money cannot be used for any non-medicaid program.
3. We, and other organizations including AFP, believe that Negron's plan will not be funded and will only lead to millions of people not being insured under his plan.
4. If the programs in this bill are established, and Sebelius and Obama change their mind and support using the money to fund them, the funding from the Federal Government would last 3 years and then Florida would start to have to pay a share. By 2020, Florida would be responsible for paying 10% of these programs. This is not financially feasible.
5. Right now, the Federal Government is borrowing 45 cents on every dollar to pay for its programs. This is unsustainable and we believe that at some point in the future the government will go bankrupt. The money it is using for the Medicaid Expansion is no different. We CANNOT afford this.
Riordan urged the faithful to call their elected reps about the Negron plan. So we took his advice and spoke with Mark Pafford (D-WPB), who politely and wearily (it was late Sunday night, before the start of the last week of the Tallahassee Circus legislative session) cleared up Riordan's distortions of fact and lamented the consequences of Tea Party ignorance.
Riordan's points 1. and 2. about allowable use of the Obamacare money? "The law permits the states to use discretion and flexibility," Pafford said. "The Negron approach is exactly that. It fits perfectly with federal law." (Here's the feds' letter on the topic.)
Riordan's other points, arguing that the feds will eventually cut off funding for Florida's program? "There is no example anyone can provide that the federal government has walked away from its word [on such funding]," Pafford said. "Even during the darkest days of the Great Recession, from 2008 to 2011, it was $12 billion in stimulus funding that allowed Florida to balance its budget. It was a lifesaver."
We're still trying to figure out what it is. According to his member's page, his only sponsored bills this session are statements to Congress in support of (1) U.S. trade with Taiwan and (2) "the right to keep and bear arms." So PBCTP Prez Riordan must be referring to Weatherford's support for a House measure that refuses the $51 billion that would cover 1 million Floridians and instead spends $239 million of state money to cover 115,000 of us (maybe -- critics say the money won't cover the premiums). The plan is to run through a health insurance market mechanism that doesn't yet exist. (Details, details...)
Anyway, not even that lame effort will lead to anything if the House and Senate can't agree on a compromise measure. And to Weatherford's Taliban, compromise is sin.
Mark Pafford is too much the diplomat to denounce Speaker Weatherford. He does have to work with the guy. So he won't call him a hypocrite or a liar. But he does feel the GOP's Tea Party wing is "biting the hand that feeds us." And that "it's a shame one person has the ability to slow down health care expansion for so many Floridians."
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.