With the reelection of President Barack Obama, Florida's Republican leaders
are reconsidering their fervent opposition to federal healthcare reform,
triggering a discussion that could have huge repercussions for South Florida.
At stake is more than $6 billion in federal funding for Miami-Dade and Broward over the next decade and the possibility of health insurance for a large percentage of the 1.4 million people in the two counties who now lack coverage.
After the defeat of Mitt Romney, who vowed to halt Obama's healthcare overhaul, the Republican leaders of the Florida House and Senate quickly said the Legislature needed to reexamine the federal act. On Friday evening, Gov. Rick Scott said he agreed there needed to be a discussion.
"Just saying "no' is not an answer," Scott said in a statement that repeated exactly what Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin, the incoming Senate president, told The Miami Herald on Thursday.
"I don't like this law," Gaetz also said, "but this is the law, and I believe I have a constitutional obligation to carry it out." He added that he thinks "there needs to be some adult debate between Republicans and Democrats" on finding ways to make the law work.
Still, Gaetz, Scott and others in the Republican leadership, which controls both the Florida House and Senate, have many criticisms of what both parties now call "Obamacare." Some are searching for compromises on how it is carried out in the state. What this means for patients and the healthcare industry in Florida -- particularly South Florida -- remains an enormous question mark.
Time is running short for decisions as the once-distant consequences of the Affordable Care Act are scheduled to kick in during the next 14 months.
The first deadline is Friday. That's when states must tell Washington whether they plan to set up exchanges -- marketplaces where individuals can purchase insurance at discounted group rates and cannot be denied because of pre-existing conditions.
Florida's political leaders acknowledge they won't make the deadline. The exchanges are scheduled to start Jan. 1, 2014, and if a state doesn't set up an exchange, its residents can participate in a federal exchange.
The next provision starts Jan. 1 with an increase in Medicaid fees for primary care physicians. Primary care physicians, who have long complained about low rates for Medicaid, which provides coverage for the poor, are scheduled to be paid at considerably higher Medicare rates -- with the feds picking up all of the added cost. But such a pay hike can only happen with the approval of the governor and Legislature, and it's unclear whether that will happen.
The following year, on Jan. 1, 2014, the biggest changes are slated to start, including a major expansion of people covered by Medicaid. An analysis from the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida shows that if the state doesn't expand coverage, Florida will lose $27.9 billion in federal funds over 10 years.
That breaks down to a $4.5 billion loss for Miami-Dade during that time, and a $2.3 billion loss for Broward, according to the alliance's analysis.
Under the law, Washington will pay all Medicaid expansion costs for the first three years, but then the states would have to pay up to 10 percent of the costs in following years -- an expense that the Safety Net Alliance
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