- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida lambasted the legislature in his home state Thursday for refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and preventing its state insurance commissioner from scrutinizing new insurance rates, only to then blame the overhaul for premium hikes.

Mr. Nelson, a Democrat who supports the health care law, said 1.2 million low-income Floridians could have gained coverage had the legislature opted to expand Medicaid to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as the Affordable Care Act prescribes.

“That seems unconscionable,” Mr. Nelson said of the state’s refusal.
Nearly half of the states have refused to expand their programs, citing opposition to Obamacare, concerns about inflating a broken entitlement program and future state costs when the federal government trims its contribution for the expanded population from 100 percent to 90 percent in 2020.

Supporters of the health care law have singled out Republican leaders in Florida and Texas, in particular, because they have large numbers of uninsured residents who would qualify.

Mr. Nelson said his state’s lawmakers also shot themselves in the foot by stripping the state insurance commissioner of the ability to examine rate proposals from insurers on the law’s health exchange.

“I jealously guarded that ability to approve rate increase and decreases in order to protect the insurance consumer,” Mr. Nelson, a former state insurance commissioner himself, said from the Senate floor.

Last year, Politifact of the Tampa Bay Times said Florida lawmakers figured if the federal government wanted to impose new coverage requirements on insurers, than it could review the plans’ rates as well.

Only that responsibility is reserved to the states, and the federal government’s ability to review rates under Obamacare is more limited to provisions like the “80-20 rule,” which provides customer rebates when insurers don’t spend a great enough share of premiums on actual care, Politifact said.

“Therefore, that’s why I come to the floor today disappointed in news reports that say that these rate increases being blamed on the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Nelson said.

Uneven increases in premiums ahead of Obamacare’s second round are key talking point for Republicans hoping to retake the Senate.

They say President Obama’s promises of lower premiums are simply not true, while his defenders say rate hikes will be slower than usual in most places under the new law.