- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott is blaming rising Medicaid costs on President Barack Obama’s health law, even though the state’s top economist said the two were not related.

State economists estimated Tuesday that the safety net health care program will rise in 2016-2017 to a total of $24.8 billion, a cost that would require Florida legislators to come up with $579 million in state money alone to fill the gap.

The costs come on top of a request from health insurers seeking a $400 million raise and a 12 percent rate increase from the state, saying they can’t afford to sustain further losses. But the Republican governor strongly opposes pumping any additional state funds into the Medicaid program and wasn’t happy when state lawmakers invested $400 million earlier this year in order to help out hospitals that were losing other types of federal aid.

The Medicaid program is finishing its first year under a new managed care structure that Scott fought vigorously for, arguing it would save the state money. But now that the program seems in desperate need of additional funding, Scott is blaming the insurance companies and hospitals.

Officials estimated nearly 4.2 million will be enrolled in the Medicaid program in 2016-2017, about a four percent increase from the previous year.

Scott has been adversarial against hospitals that receive public funds after the federal government announced deep cuts in hospital funding earlier this year. Scott, who formerly ran a chain of for-profit hospitals, has tried to show that the hospitals aren’t as bad off financially as they maintain. He has also created a commission to examine hospitals’ finances.

“The rising cost estimates of the Medicaid program under Obamacare, paired with the recent requests from some insurance plans for more funding and hospitals’ continued requests for more state funding (even while making record profits this year of $3.7 billion) are impossible for the state to fulfill,” Scott wrote in his letter.

Scott went on to say that “Obamacare is costing taxpayers more than any estimates originally estimated.” However, Scott and House Republicans chose not to expand Medicaid to a roughly 800,000 more Floridians under Obamacare, meaning that any additional enrollees would come from Floridians who were already eligible for the program. Many are children.

After the governor’s letter was read at Tuesday’ meeting, state economist Amy Baker seemed puzzled.

“It probably does not affect the work of the conference today … I think most of what we’ve done today is really related to the caseload growth,” Baker said.

The staff director of the House health care budget committee also agreed.

When asked to explain, a spokeswoman for Scott said it was fair to blame the health care overhaul because counselors hired to help people enroll on the federal health exchange wound up directing people to the state’s traditional Medicaid program. These are people who already qualified for Medicaid under rules that were in place prior to the overhaul taking effect.

Jackie Schutz, without citing any specifics, also contended that “Obamacare is clearly driving up healthcare costs in Florida. You would have to be living in a parallel universe where growing government doesn’t cost money to argue otherwise.”

Lawmakers rely on the figures from the estimating conference to get a budget projection, whether there will be a surplus or shortfall depending on funding decisions they’ve made

Scott has warned that a raise for insurers could undermine the five percent savings generated by the fledgling Medicaid program that gives federal funds to private health insurance companies to oversee medical care for more than 3 million poor and disabled people instead of reimbursing doctors and hospitals for each service.

“Gov. Scott is responsible for running Florida’s Medicaid program not President Obama,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “In fact last year, while running for re-election Gov. Scott touted his transformation of Florida’s Medicaid program by rolling out statewide managed care and promised more transparency, better health care, and cost predictability.”

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Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale.


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