Uninsured Floridians put pressure on lawmakers over Medicaid expansion

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT
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Hundreds of uninsured Floridians packed the state House of Representatives to push for the expansion of Medicaid.

The activists called on Republicans to say yes to receiving $51 billion in federal funding. That money would allow an additional one million people to sign up for Medicaid.

From disabled workers to cancer survivors, the activists all have one thing in common: they don't make enough money to pay for private health insurance, but they make too much to qualify for Medicaid now.

Victoria Stout made the journey all the way from St. Petersburg, where after two and a half years of being out of work, she's finally landed a job.

"I'm starting to get part-time, seasonal employment, and of course, just at this time, mandatory insurance comes along, which, love to have some health insurance, I haven't been able to afford it yet," she said. "But, I still don't make enough money, and chances are I won't."

Under a deal being offered by the federal government, Stout would be able to get Medicaid coverage, but Florida would have to accept $51 billion in federal funding. That's something Republican lawmakers are refusing to do.

Far from providing more security, state House Republicans argue expanding Medicaid would be a gamble, as they don't trust Washington would come through on its end of the bargain. If that were to happen, Florida would be stuck with the tab.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, cited the nation's ballooning national debt as a cause for concern.

"Why in the world would we take the federal government's position with Medicaid when they promise that they'll pay for Medicaid expansion when we know that they will be unable to keep that promise in the long run?" he said.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott tried to convince his fellow Republicans to re-consider - and failed.

Now Stout said it's up to people like her to lead the fight for expansion, an issue she argues isn't just about health but about fairness.

"You get rewarded for not working; you get punished for working," she said. "I've found that out in so many ways.

Stout said the issue can all be fixed, if only lawmakers act.

Activists said they plan to focus most of their attention on House Speaker Will Weatherford, who is leading the charge to reject the federal funds.