Just days after flying to Washington in hopes of convincing the Obama administration to extend federal hospital funds, Gov. Rick Scott was back in the nation's capital Tuesday slamming federal health officials for denying his request.
The administration wants the Florida governor to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 Floridians, which it says is a more efficient use of federal funds than paying hospitals retroactively for caring for the uninsured.
But Scott and fellow Republicans in the Florida House don't want to accept any money tied to the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion funds. Instead, they want the Obama administration to expand funding known as the low-income pool, which helps hospitals that care for Medicaid and uninsured patients.
Neither side is backing down and the fight is garnering national attention, with Scott now suing the administration and comparing it to the fictional mob family the Sopranos. Eight other states that receive the federal hospital funds are watching closely. Florida's will the first to expire, on June 30.
"Let there be no doubt, the Obama Administration's end to the (the low-income pool) program in states is the new battlefront in states' fight against federal overreach. They want us to take on more of Obamacare," Scott said in a statement Tuesday. "They want us to adopt their policy the way they want us to, or else. This is the Sopranos."
The governor also met with members of Florida's congressional delegation and other fellow Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, to push his case.
"The Obama Administration is putting their own quest for power above the health care needs of low-income families in Florida and that is wrong on every level," Scott said.
But Scott has been criticized by several Democrats recently for putting politics above people and for mischaracterizing negotiations.
"Gov. Scott's single-minded reliance on (the low-income pool) is shortsighted and dangerous for Florida's long-term economic well-being as well as the sustainability of its health care system," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "The (low-income pool) program was always intended to be temporary, and last year (federal health officials) gave clear public notice on their decision to finally change it; Florida's leaders should not claim otherwise."
Scott told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on Monday night that the Obama administration had "ruined my entire budget."
But in reality, the governor and Florida lawmakers have known for more than a year that the federal hospital funds would end next month and failed to come up with a backup plan. Scott left the federal money in his proposed budget, insisting that the feds would ultimately change their minds, but when it became clear the Obama administration wasn't relenting, the issue blew apart Florida's legislative session, prompting the House to abruptly adjourn three days early.
Legislators must approve a new budget by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown.
Scott also said Medicaid expansion would cost the state $5 billion over 10 years. But even if the Obama administration agrees to extend the hospitals funds, it would still cost the state $9 billion in matching funds over 10 years, yet not a single person would have gained health insurance.
The governor had asked the Obama administration to forgo a required two-month public comment and review period about the hospital funds to give state lawmakers an answer before they meet for a special session in June. Federal health officials said Tuesday they would continue their talks with Florida but felt completing the public comment period was important.