MIAMI (AP) – Expanding Medicaid to an additional 1 million Floridians under President Barack Obama's new health law is turning into one of the biggest issues of this year's race for governor.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist brings up the topic on most campaign stops and says one of the first things he'll do if elected is call a special session to expand Medicaid. His opponent, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, seems to be waning in his support.
Scott told The Miami Herald he's open to taking roughly $51 billion over the next decade from the federal government, but only as long as Florida taxpayers aren't left with the bill.
In a surprise move two years ago, Scott made an emotional speech, saying that Medicaid expansion was a compassionate, common-sense choice. But he never put his full political weight behind the issue, and the Legislature rejected expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Scott has since backed away from his position, telling MSNBC earlier this year: "I said while the federal government is going to pay 100 percent, I won't stand in the way of the Legislature wanting to do more. But the Legislature made the decision … not to go forward."
On Friday, Scott reaffirmed his support in an interview with the newspaper and denied any contradictions. His campaign staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on Saturday.
"While they spend 100 percent, I'm not going to stand in the way of the federal government doing something," he said. "What I'm not willing to do is put Florida taxpayers on the hook … I've been very consistent and let's all remember that Obamacare is an absolute bad bill for patients, for families, for employers, for employees."
Earlier this week, Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, said he would work with the GOP-controlled Legislature and urge them "to forget about the party affiliations and do what's right for our fellow Floridians … we can get it done and we owe it to them."
Crist also said he'd use any tools at his disposal, adding he's not afraid to use the budget line-item veto if necessary.
Expanding Medicaid has also been politically divisive between the Sunshine State and the federal government. Scott needed approval from federal health officials to expand on a controversial Medicaid privatization program. Lengthy negotiation ensued. Some experts predicted that if the feds approved the program that Scott would come out in favor of Medicaid expansion — a tenet of Obama's health law.
The feds approved statewide privatization, a victory for state Republicans, but Medicaid expansion was virtually a non-starter during this past Legislative session.