- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked a federal court Thursday to thwart the Obama administration from using “unconstitutional coercion” to, in his view, force him to expand Medicaid under Obamacare by refusing to renew a separate program that helps hospitals care for the poor and uninsured.

Mr. Scott, a Republican, paid a personal visit this week to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, hoping to secure more than $1 billion in federal funds to extend the Low Income Pool (LIP) program, which reimburses hospitals that treat the poor and uninsured.

The administration, though, says expanding Medicaid would be a more effective way to ensure that more than 800,000 of Florida’s poorest resident gain access to care. It does not want funding streams such as LIP to pick up costs that Medicaid expansion might cover.

Without a straight answer in hand, Mr. Scott asked the courts to force HHS to consider his request without letting Obamacare color its deliberations.

“Without this vital [LIP] funding, healthcare providers through Florida stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars used to offset the costs of care not otherwise compensable through Medicaid, either in its current or its expanded form,” Mr. Scott said in a motion to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

The Affordable Care Act called on states to extend the health program to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Florida and 20 other states have resisted, even though the federal government picks up all of the tab through 2016 and 90 percent of it by 2020 and beyond.

Mr. Scott said he is worried federal government will not maintain the program and pay its share of matching funds.

Mr. Scott sued HHS last week over the issue, saying he felt the administration was bringing undue pressure to try to push him to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 residents by canceling the LIP.

He said the administration is violating a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Obamacare, but also said the government couldn’t threaten to withhold funds as a cudgel to force states to expand Medicaid.

“Once again, the federal government is knowingly and deliberately attempting to coerce Florida into participating in Medicaid expansion by withholding massive amount of preexisting Medicaid funding it it refuses,” his motion says.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has approved the LIP program on three occasions since 2005. But the agency says it warned Florida nearly a year ago that LIP was a trial program that likely would be phased out after June 30.

Mrs. Burwell said Wednesday that despite Mr. Scott’s assertions, her agency’s decision on LIP funding is not tied to whether a state expands Medicaid.

Mr. Scott is asking HHS to deliver a swift response to request for LIP funding because his state legislature will return to Tallahassee within weeks to finish up the state budget by June 30.

The standoff over health care funding has delayed their spending plans to date.

Without a firm reply from Washington, Mr. Scott has made it clear that he hopes the courts will step in and force HHS to consider his LIP proposal with no strings attached.

“In short,” his motion says, “Florida needs judicial relief, and it needs that relief now.”

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