By Kathleen McGrory
As a standoff over Medicaid expansion brought the legislative session to an unexpected halt on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal government tried to force the healthcare policy upon Florida.
Scott first floated the idea two weeks ago, after federal health officials said they would be more likely to continue a $2.2 billion hospital funding program known as the Low Income Pool if state lawmakers voted to expand healthcare coverage to low-income Floridians.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, seeks to prohibit the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from tying the two decisions.
The suit also asks that CMS be required to “immediately reconsider the renewal of Florida’s LIP program.”
“President Obama’s sudden end to the Low Income Pool healthcare program to leverage us for Obamacare is illegal and a blatant overreach of executive power,” Scott said in a statement. “His administration is effectively attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead. This sort of coercion tactic has already been called illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The state is relying on the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, which allowed states to opt out of Medicaid expansion, to make its case.
A CMS spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
“The decision to expand Medicaid, or not, is a state decision,” spokesman Aaron Albright said in a statement. “We will work with Florida and each state that has an uncompensated care pool regardless of its Medicaid expansion status, to support access to health care for low-income residents that works for individuals, hospitals and taxpayers, taking into account the state’s specific circumstances. CMS will review proposals regarding uncompensated care pools based on the same principles whether or not a state has expanded Medicaid.”
Critics quibble with Scott’s claim that the federal decision to end the LIP program was “sudden.” They point out that the program was scheduled to end June 30 under an existing agreement.
Others have questioned the wisdom of suing CMS in the middle of negotiations over LIP.
“It’s an asinine decision by the governor,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach. “It continues a long history of poor decision-making and putting politics above the people of Florida.”
Scott has twice shifted his position on Medicaid expansion. He went from opposing the policy to supporting it in 2013, only to change his mind again earlier this year.
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