With Medicaid expansion, FL gov. shows pragmatism

M

aybe politicians aren’t as impractical as they appear. On February 20, Rick Scott, the Republican Governor of Florida, made a move that surprised both sides of the aisle: he announced that he would support an expansion of Medicaid coverage for his state’s poor citizens. The great surprise in this decision stems from the fact that Scott was an avid critic of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare”. Scott opposed Obama’s healthcare provisions prior to his gubernatorial campaign and many believe it was his strong conservative leadership against Obamacare that resulted in his election in 2011. In fact, he even led Florida in the lawsuit against Obamacare’s implementation. Scott stated last summer that Obama’s healthcare laws would hinder Florida’s goals to promote economic growth, increase quality of education, and keep living costs low, saying opting out is the “right decision for our citizens.” I guess seven months can really change a person.

Scott will ask Florida’s legislature to expand the Medicaid program for the first three years, allowing one million Floridians, in addition to three million already, to obtain coverage. Why only the first three years? During this time, the federal government has agreed to pay for 100% of the expansion, meaning that eligible Floridians will be able to reap the benefits of Medicaid without any additional costs to the state. Scott says that as long as the federal government upholds its promise to fully finance the expansion, “I cannot in good conscience deny Floridians that needed access to health care.”

Though this is not a conventional move by a once anti-Obamacare crusader, Scott is not alone; he is just the latest of six other Republican governors—representing Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio—who have also decided to jump on the Medicaid expansion bandwagon. Some were just as fervently opposed to Obamacare as he was, namely Jan Brewer of Arizona, who once stated that “Obamacare is an overreaching and unaffordable assault on states’ rights and individual liberty.” Now it seems as though these governors have put aside their personal and political animosity towards the Affordable Care Act in favor of pragmatism.

Of course, Scott’s support—though significant—is no guarantee. The program would have to be approved by the GOP-controlled legislature, which is no friend to the law. Moreover, Scott has received backlash from his fellow conservatives. Stephen Hayes, a columnist for The Weekly Standard, called Scott “cowardly,” and Will Weatherford, Florida’s House Speaker, expressed disappointment, doubting that the expansion will improve healthcare in the state.

Despite the criticism, I applaud Governor Scott’s ability to place practicality and rationality over his beliefs, since I’m sure his actual view towards Obamacare has changed negligibly at best. But what he came to understand was the expansion’s undeniable benefits—at least in the first three years. As I stated before, the Medicaid expansion would be fully funded by the federal government during this period. It would be a grave mistake to prevent that money from reaching Florida, because otherwise, Floridian taxpayers would simply be paying to fund it in other states who welcomed it with open arms while receiving no benefits themselves. Plus, it would be of no extra financial burden to the state, so why not implement it for the first three years? Florida is the nation’s fourth most populous state, with 15% of its residents living below the poverty level. Supporting a program that will aid a million more citizens at no direct cost is socially just and economically viable.

Let’s also not forget about the 2012 election, where Florida, although extremely contested, helped deliver a victory for Obama. This implies that Rick Scott, who is up for reelection next year, governs a state that is not solid red. Even though being an incumbent is a huge advantage on its own, moving toward the center in controversial policies is a smart political move for Scott to appeal to a wider constituency—even if that means criticism from fellow conservatives. I highly doubt the Governor has had some sort of change in heart or that he even truly cares about covering four million residents instead of three. His decision to support the expansion was in the name of economic responsibility and political gain. But then again, when is a politician’s decision not based on such motivations?

 

—Angela Della Croce ‘15 is an Economics major.

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