- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - House Republicans appeared ready to reject the Senate’s plan on Medicaid, arguing Thursday that it is essentially an expansion that relies on money from the president’s health care overhaul.

During a tense two-and-a-half hours of questions, House Republicans agreed the Senate plan was still a government entitlement program for “able-bodied adults” that would increase the federal deficit. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said it was a “safe assumption” that the bill would be defeated on Friday.

“It’s the same program rules, same population, same bucket of money,” Crisafulli said, referring to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. “It’s Medicaid expansion regardless of what others say.”

Rep. Mia Jones, a Democrat, stressed that the bill would not expand Medicaid and would save the state an estimated $547 million and draw down more than $18 billion federal dollars to help the additional Medicaid population buy private insurance. She warned that if the House did not pass the bill and continued to rely on a federal program that reimburses hospitals that care for the uninsured, they would have to deal with the issue again next year.

“Today I am standing with the weight of hundreds of thousands of Floridians on my shoulder,” said Jones, from Jacksonville.

The House and Gov. Rick Scott want the Obama administration to extend the hospital funds known as the low-income pool. But the Senate, the Obama administration and hospital groups want the state to expand Medicaid, arguing it’s more efficient to use federal funds to give people insurance than to pay hospitals for caring for the uninsured retroactively.

The Obama administration agreed to extend the hospital funds, but only at half the amount. Medicaid expansion is a key objective of Obama’s health law, but the governor and many House Republicans are opposed to accepting any money tied to so-called Obamacare.

The White House on Thursday bolstered its argument for Medicaid expansion, releasing a study from its economists saying it would provide insurance to 750,000 Floridians, improve access to health care, improve health and offer greater financial security.

During a special legislative session, which started this week, the Senate added several amendments to try to address concerns that have been raised by the House. Those changes included requiring recipients to work or attend school and pay small premiums. Republicans were not appeased and said those changes were unlikely to get approval from the Obama administration.

“You’re saying that president Obama’s signature legislation the Affordable Care Act has no work requirement in it for Medicaid expansion … yet you are expecting your leader and your administration to approve a plan that requires work,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

Jones said all of the requests had been approved in other states except for the work requirement.

Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, complained the bill would add to the federal deficit.

“The money that’s coming from the federal government, wouldn’t that be borrowed?” Hudson said.

Several Republican Senators noted Wednesday when they passed the bill that the state already borrows a significant amount of federal dollars for other programs, including transportation.

“Save us this rhetoric on long term debt and entitlement growth,” said Democratic Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

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Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale.

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