Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to SeaLand shipping lines new Intra-Americas headquarters on Jan. 23, 2015 in Miramar, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

New ACA lawsuit makes matters worse in Florida

In theory, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) finds himself in a pretty good position. He somehow won a second term last fall, and the far-right Republican governor is governing alongside a state legislature run by his own party. Putting aside whether his agenda has merit, Scott should find it easy to do as he pleases.
It’s just not working out that way.
Florida’s Legislature collapsed into chaos Tuesday as the House unilaterally ended the annual session with more than three days left, leaving dozens of major bills dead and escalating tensions between the House and Senate over their healthcare stalemate. […] It marked the first time in Florida’s modern history that one chamber shut down and went home on a different day than the other in a regular session.
At the heart of the dispute is, of all things, the Affordable Care Act. The Republican-run state Senate wants to accept Medicaid expansion, bolster state finances, extend coverage to 850,000 low-income Floridians, and clear the way for another tax cut. The Republican-run state House, meanwhile, wants to oppose “Obamacare” because, well, it’s “Obamacare.”
It sounds like the sort of thing some gubernatorial leadership might help resolve, but Rick Scott’s attention yesterday wasn’t on the legislature, per se. Rather, the governor had the courts on his mind.
Gov. Rick Scott followed through Tuesday on his promised lawsuit against the federal government over its threat to withhold hospital charity-care funding if Florida doesn’t expand Medicaid. […] His office announced the filing shortly after the Florida House of Representatives adjourned its legislative session ahead of schedule, amid its budget stalemate with the Senate over healthcare.
Jonathan Cohn recently described the ridiculous lawsuit as a “tantrum,” and it’s worth understanding why.
As we discussed when the governor first announced his plan to file the case, back in 2006, the Bush/Cheney administration created a Medicaid pilot project intended to provide funds to help hospitals treat the uninsured. The policy was called “Low Income Pools” (LIP) and Florida received some money through the initiative.
Not surprisingly, the Affordable Care Act made the LIP project unnecessary, and the administration began phasing out the policy.
In Florida, Scott seized on this in the most bizarre way possible – if federal officials are willing to scrap LIP funding, the governor said, then maybe they won’t fund Medicaid. The Republican found a convenient excuse to reject billions in federal funds and a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of his struggling constituents.
Yesterday, the governor took this one step further, going to court to force Washington to give Florida federal funds for a program that will no longer exist. Scott wants health care money from the Obama administration to help Floridians (through LIP), but at the same time, he also doesn’t want health care money from the Obama administration to help Floridians (through the ACA).
Joan McCarter joked that Scott only wants a check “that doesn’t have Obamacare cooties.” Greg Sargent added that the governor could very easily clean up this mess by re-embracing Medicaid expansion through the ACA and simply claiming “it isn’t Obamacare.”
Scott Lemieux highlighted the complete lack of any coherent governing principle: “Scott and his allies aren’t opposed in principle to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people. They’re opposed to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people if it’s done via ‘Obamacare.’ It’s pretty hard to argue that there’s some sort of major liberty interest involved when you’re literally making (idiotic) arguments that the state of Florida is constitutionality entitled to federal health care grants.”
For more on the policy dispute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a helpful overview yesterday that’s worth checking out.