- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida House has soundly rejected a Medicaid expansion compromise that even supporters admitted had its flaws and was seemingly doomed to fail almost from the start.

The bill, which tore apart the regular session as the House and Senate bitterly disagreed, was voted down 72-41 Friday after a rousing, nearly six-and-a-half hour debate where nearly 60 lawmakers spoke. It was an attempt by the Senate to draw down $18 billion federal dollars and give it to hundreds of thousands of Floridians to purchase private health insurance instead of putting them in the regular Medicaid program.

But Republicans insisted it would still expand so-called Obamacare and increase the federal deficit. Even supporters acknowledged the bill would cover far fewer people than the 800,000 who are eligible. Gov. Rick Scott was also strongly opposed.

“I know an entitlement when I see one. (The Senate bill) is simply Obamacare Medicaid expansion with a clever name,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

During the debate, lawmakers fell along party lines, calling the bill either disastrous or life-saving.

Democrats read Scripture and urged lawmakers to put aside partisanship to help the most vulnerable. Several Democrats admitted the bill had didn’t go as far as they’d hoped, but noted it was a starting point that would save the state $547 million.

“Simply voting no, no, no because Obamacare has the name Obama in it is not a way to govern … there are real human beings that all of us represent that are in this coverage gap and have health care needs that go unmet,” said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat.

Rep. Evan Jenne castigated the House leadership for holding closed-door meetings, refusing to compromise by abruptly ending the regular session three days early, comparing them to the book “Lord of the Flies.”

“Politics of the hyper-partisan have stained the honor of this chamber and it’s sad. Children left to their own devices on an island, turned feral, showing no leadership. Welcome to the Florida House,” said the South Florida Democrat.

Supporters have tried unsuccessfully to pass Medicaid expansion for the past few years and noted lawmakers would be back debating in the issue again in a few months as federal funds that help hospital that care for the uninsured are diminishing.

“It’s going to haunt the state of Florida, not passing health care,” said Democratic leader Rep. Mark Pafford.

Clovis Watson Jr. tried to debunk Republican assertions that they held no responsibility in covering able bodied adults. He said he couldn’t afford health insurance until he was 23-years-old and had completed college and the police academy.

“I was part of the working poor. This is not about people who are lazy and irresponsible,” said the Gainesville Democrat.

The Senate revamped the bill earlier this week to address several concerns raised by the House, adding measures that would end the program after three years and strengthening a work-requirement component, although federal health officials would likely not approve the later. The proposal also required recipients to pay small monthly premiums.

Republicans warned the expansion could put taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars and that the Obama administration may back out of its promise to pay the entire bill for the first few years and 90 percent after that. They also feared that a larger than anticipated number of recipients would sign up, further increasing the financial burden on the state.

“Obamacare has been a legacy of failure and broken promises,” said Rep Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.

The chambers were able to come together Friday and agree on a broad deal for a new state budget, setting aside amounts for education and health care. Legislators still have to hammer out how much they will set aside for specific spending items. But this means they will likely avoid a partial shutdown of state government.

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