Health Care

Florida to sue feds over ObamaCare dispute

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced Thursday he is suing the Obama administration as part of an escalating dispute over whether the state will expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.

“It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into ObamaCare,” Scott said in a statement Thursday announcing the lawsuit.

Scott is objecting to the Obama administration linking the extension of separate federal money to help hospitals in the state care for the uninsured, known as the Low Income Pool (LIP), to the state’s decision on whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Obama administration says the LIP funding will not be renewed in its current form after June. It says that the future of the program is “linked” to the decision to expand Medicaid, though it stops short of saying it is entirely dependent on it. Scott, on the other hand, wants the LIP funding but does not want to expand Medicaid.

Scott argues that the Obama administration’s linkage of the LIP funding to the Medicaid decision violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s ObamaCare ruling in 2012. In that case, NFIB v. Sebelius, the court gave states a choice on whether to expand Medicaid, arguing the federal government could not coerce states into it.

“The Court ruled that the President could not use ‘gun to the head’ approaches in pushing for Medicaid expansion,” Scott said.

The Obama administration made explicit the linkage of the LIP funding to the Medicaid decision in a Tuesday letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“Medicaid expansion would reduce uncompensated care in the state, and therefore have an impact on the LIP, which is why the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June,” Vikki Wachino, a CMS official, wrote in the letter to Florida.

CMS responded to the lawsuit Thursday by saying it is not coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.

“Florida, like all states, is free to implement Medicaid expansion or not,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said.

He said the LIP funding is part of an “optional, time limited demonstration program.”

He said the question is whether to extend an optional program when the state has options “that would better serve the low-income population.”
CMS says it will review the state’s LIP proposal when it is submitted.

The White House is pressing Florida to expand Medicaid.

“There’s not a good reason why anybody in Florida would be in a situation of trying to block a policy that would benefit 800,000 Floridians,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Earnest referred questions on the LIP funding to CMS and said he would have to look into whether the White House is involved in the decision-making around the funds.

Florida’s legislature, meanwhile, is locked in a battle over whether to expand Medicaid. The Republican-controlled Senate is in favor of expansion, while the House, also controlled by Republicans, is against it.

Scott reversed his position, coming out against expansion, last week, citing mistrust of the federal government.

This story was updated at 4:12 p.m.


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