Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he would sue the federal government because it is withholding hospital funding as part of a dispute over the state's refusal to expand Medicaid, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Under the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health insurance legislation signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, states can receive federal dollars if they expand eligibility for Medicaid, a government health insurance program for people with low incomes. Florida is one of 21 states that has opted against expanding the program, although it has lately softened that stance while considering alternatives.
Scott's announcement comes after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency, told Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration Tuesday that future funding for a $2.2 billion hospital program would be contingent upon whether Florida takes federal money to expand Medicaid. The state program in need of funding, known as the Low Income Pool, funds hospitals and healthcare facilities that treat low-income and uninsured patients and is due to expire June 30.
Whether or not Florida expands Medicaid "is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June," Vikki Wachina, a Medicare and Medicaid official, wrote in a letter to the Florida agency, the News Service of Florida reported. "We believe that the future of the LIP, sufficient provider rates and Medicaid expansion are linked."
The governor responded by announcing a lawsuit. "It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal health care dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare," Scott said in a statement. Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli called it "unthinkable" for the Obama administration to tie hospital funding to whether Florida expands Medicaid.
Florida legislators have been locked in a contentious debate over the fate of Medicaid in their state, with the Democrats and Senate Republicans generally favoring expansion and the House Republicans firmly against it. The governor himself has wavered on the issue and most recently announced he was against an expansion. If the state did expand Medicaid, it would receive billions in federal funding to help give coverage to more than 800,000 Floridians. Technically, the Legislature has until May 1 to make a decision, although it could call a special session in order to extend negotiations on the matter.